Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: historical fiction
Series: French Executioner #2
Length: 416 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Date Released: May 5, 2015 (originally published in 2002 as Blood Ties)
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
Nearly twenty years have passed since Anne Boleyn died at the hands of her slayer and savior, Jean Rombaud. All he wants is to forget his sword-wielding days and live happily with his family. Yet her distinctive six-fingered hand, stolen at her death―and all the dark power it represents―still compels evil men to seek it out.
When Jean’s son, Gianni, joins the Inquisition in Rome and betrays all his father worked for, Jean discovers that time alone cannot take him―or his son―far from his past. But he never expected his whole family, especially his beloved daughter Anne, to become caught up once more in the tragic queen’s terrible legacy.
From the savagery of way in Italy to the streets of London and Paris and the wilds of North America, The Curse of Anne Boleyn sweeps readers into a thrilling story that puts love, loyalty, and family to the ultimate test.
Today, May 19th, is the 479th anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s death, which makes this a fitting day for a review of a book about, not Anne herself, but the ways in which she was used and abused after her death.
For a woman who only lived at most 35 years, and who was only queen for three, she has cast a long shadow. She fascinated Henry VIII, and her story still fascinates us.
In The French Executioner (reviewed here) we read the immediate effects of her death on one man, the swordsman sent from France to cut off her head. In that story, Jean Rombaud made Anne a promise – that he would cut off her infamous six-fingered hand as well as her head, and take the hand away to be hidden where it could not be used by her enemies.
The Curse of Anne Boleyn takes place twenty years after The French Execution. Instead of featuring entirely the same cast of characters, it is more like The French Executioner: the Next Generation. But it still centers around Jean’s vow to keep Anne’s hand safe, and forces who want to use that hand and Anne’s legacy for their own grisly ends.
Although twenty years have passed, there are some things that are still the same. Anne Boleyn, or rather the King’s desire to marry her in spite of already having a wife, started England down the path of the Protestant Reformation that was catching fire (often literally) all over 16th century Europe.
While in Anne’s day, the Protestants were in the ascendant, twenty years later both Henry VIII and his even more devoutly Protestant son Edward VI are dead, and his daughter, whom history recalls as Bloody Mary, is on the throne. Mary was devoutly Catholic, and the blood spilled in her name was that of Protestant martyrs who refused to bend to whims of faith.
But as this story begins, Mary’s reign is coming to an end. She has no children, and it has become obvious that she will have none. Her heir is her sister Elizabeth, the Protestant daughter of Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth only has to survive her sister’s suspicions and the machinations of all of those around her and Mary who would destroy Elizabeth if they can’t manage to use her.
The Imperial Ambassador plans to use Anne Boleyn’s six-fingered hand as a way of pinning Anne’s purported witchcraft onto her daughter Elizabeth, as a last-ditch stand for the Spanish and the Catholic religion, to remain in power in England.
The hand is gone, and so we have another action/adventure tale of the hunt for the hand, as well as the bravery of the forces still trying to protect Anne’s legacy and Jean Rombaud’s last vow. The story is set against a backdrop of Elizabeth and the Imperial Ambassador playing a game of chess that is a metaphor for the real chess game they play about Elizabeth’s life. And the death that has been hung over her head.
But when Jean finds out that the hand is being sought, he is not the man he was twenty years ago. In the intervening time, he found brief happiness as an innkeeper and wine grower with Beck, the young woman who attached herself to his earlier quest. Jean and Beck, along with their comrades Haakon and Fugger, are inside the siege of Sienna after their homes had been overrun.
The fate of the hand now centers around their children. Haakon’s son Erik, Fugger’s daughter Maria, and especially Jean and Beck’s two children, Anne and Gianni. Gianni has betrayed them all, and is working with the more militant elements of the Catholic Church to bring the hand back to England at any cost.
Gianni’s betrayal has broken his parent’s marriage, and his father’s spirit. But when he kidnaps Maria in order to get Fugger to betray Jean again, we begin to see the depths to which he has sunk in his rebellion. And eventually his madness.
The story moves in grand swoops from Sienna to Paris to Rome and even to the wild lands of Canada, before it comes to its sweeping, and stunning conclusion.
Escape Rating B+: I love the way that this story, and the one preceding it, dip their toes into history without falling all the way in. There have been so many historical fiction treatments of Anne Boleyn that enough is probably past enough.
At the same time, the historical elements in this book feel true. Something like this could have happened. It even conceivably might have happened, on the principle that “reality is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.” That we are still fascinated with Anne Boleyn and the Tudors today is a testament to just how compelling her story and theirs was. And is.
But it is the characters in The Curse of Anne Boleyn that keep you turning the pages, probably long after you should have stopped for the night. And this story is actually a bit too hair-raising (sometimes literally) to read just before bed. Which didn’t stop me for a second.
While this is the story of the next generation after The French Executioner, what keeps it going is the family strife between Jean and Beck, and between their children Gianni and Anne, fueled by Gianni’s extreme and bloodthirsty fanaticism. Gianni wants to sacrifice everyone and everything to his belief in a Church extremely militant, while his family is as non-religious as possible in that era. Beck’s real name is Rebecca, and she was raised as a Jew, although she left her people to marry Jean. After the groups travails at the hands of the Church in The French Executioner, none of them are exactly fond of the avatars of the Catholic faith.
But Gianni, possibly as part of a natural teen aged rebellion, has gone the other way. He is fanatical to the point of hunting down and murdering those he believes are the enemies of his church. Including his mother’s people.
He’s ripe to be set on a mission to tear down his father’s friends and his father’s faith. His pursuit of his sister across the Atlantic is just part of his rebellion against his family. His father loved and trusted Anne more than Gianni, so Gianni will punish Anne because he can no longer reach his father.
Gianni never grasps that he, his faith and especially his brutality are being used, just as he uses anyone who comes near him in his quest for vengeance. Or is it validation?
The book is divided into two parts. The first half takes place in Europe, as Gianni and his allies harass Jean and his friends and pursue the hand. After their final confrontation, in Europe, Anne, her allies, the hand and eventually Gianni and his followers move the conflict to Canada, which at that time was still firmly in the hands of the Native nations.
The divide between the two parts felt a bit abrupt to this reader. Part one ends decisively, and almost felt like the end of the book as a whole. When it picks up again in Canada, it almost feels like a different story. And equally compelling story, but a very different one.
Anne and Gianni find themselves on opposite sides in one of the significant battles that forms the Six Nations Confederacy, a battle where they, and the people who have come to rely on them, both lose and win.
As Anne sails off into the sunset, the reader is left hoping that she finds her peace. And something of her family left behind.
The publisher is giving away 3 copies of THE CURSE OF ANNE BOLEYN by CC Humphreys.