Review: The Curse of Anne Boleyn by C.C. Humphreys + Giveaway

curse of anne boleyn by cc humphreysFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
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.

My Review:

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.

french executioner by cc humphreysIn 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.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Post by Author C.C. Humphreys + Giveaway

Today I’d like to welcome C.C. Humphreys, author of the fascinating Jack Absolute historical fiction series, to talk about the creation of his latest book to be released in the U.S. The French Executioner. (reviewed here).

I’m very happy to host C.C. again today. I loved the first two Jack Absolute books, and I’ve been interested in Anne Boleyn and her time since I saw Anne of the Thousand Days lo these many years ago. So I had to ask C.C. why feature the unknown man instead of the very famous queen?

french executioner by cc humphreys original coverWHY WRITE A NOVEL ABOUT THE MAN WHO KILLED ANNE BOLEYN?
By C.C. Humphreys

Where do the ideas for novels come from?

I remember exactly what I was doing when the idea for The French Executioner hit me like a bolt of lightning. I was working out.

I was living in Vancouver at the time. Making my living as an actor. I’d written a couple of plays. But my dream from childhood had always been to write historical fiction.

I wasn’t thinking of any of that, on that day in a gym in 1993. I was thinking about shoulder presses. Checking my form in the mirror.

This is what happened. (It also shows you the rather strange associations in my brain!)

I lift the weight bar.
Me, in my head. ‘God, I’ve got a long neck.’
Lower bar.
‘If I was ever executed,’ – Raise bar – ‘it would be a really easy shot for the ax.’
Lower bar.
‘Or the sword. Because, of course, Anne Boleyn was executed with a sword.’
Raise bar. Stop half way.
‘Anne Boleyn had six fingers on one hand.’

Flash! Boom! Put down bar before I drop it. It came together in my head, as one thing: the executioner, brought from France to do the deed, (I remembered that from school). Not just taking her head. Taking her hand as well, that infamous hand – and then the question all writers have to ask: what happened next?

I scurried to the library. Took out books. I knew it had to be a novel. I did some research, sketched a few ideas. But the problem was, I wasn’t a novelist. A play had seemed like a hill. A novel – well, it was a mountain, and I wasn’t ready to climb it. So I dreamed a while, then quietly put all my research, sketches, notes away.

But I never stopped thinking about it. The story kept coming and whenever I was in a second hand bookstore I’d study the history shelves and think: if ever I write that novel – which I probably never will – I’ll want… a battle at sea between slave galleys. So I’d buy a book on that subject, read it. Buy another, read it.

November 1999. Six years after being struck by lightning. I’m living back in England and I find a book on sixteenth century mercenaries – and I knew the novel I was never going to write would have mercenaries. Twenty pages in, I turn to my wife and say: “You know, I think I’m going to write that book.” And she replies, “It’s about bloody time.”

I wrote. The story, all that research, had stewed in my head for so long, it just poured out. Ten months and I was done. I wondered if it was any good. I sent it to an agent. She took me on and had it sold three months later.

I was a novelist after all.

About the Book: The year is 1536, and notorious French executioner Jean Rombaud is brought in by Henry VIII to behead Anne Boleyn, the condemned Queen of England. But on the eve of her execution, Rombaud becomes enchanted with the ill-fated queen and swears a vow to her: to bury her six-fingered hand, a symbol of her rumored witchery, at a sacred crossroads.
Yet in a Europe ravaged by religious war, the hand of this infamous Protestant icon is so powerful a relic that many will kill for it. Bloodthirsty warriors, corrupt church fathers, Vikings, alchemists, and sullied noblemen alike vie for the prize as Rombaud, a man loyal to the grave, struggles to honor his promise.
From sea battles to lusty liaisons, from the hallucinations of St. Anthony’s fire to the fortress of an apocalyptic messiah, The French Executioner sweeps readers into a breathtaking story of courage, the pursuit of power, and loyalty at whatever cost.
cc humphreysC.C. Humphreys is the author of eight historical novels. The French Executioner, which was his first novel and a runner-up for the CWA Steel Dagger for Thrillers award in 2002, has never before been published in the U.S. The sequel, The Curse of Anne Boleyn, will be published in the U.S. in May 2015.
Humphreys has acted all over the world and appeared on stages ranging from London’s West End to Hollywood’s Twentieth Century Fox. He is also an accomplished swordsman and fight choreographer. For more information, visit


Chris is kindly giving away a copy of The French Executioner to one lucky winner! (US/Canada). To enter, use the Rafflecopter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The French Executioner by C. C. Humphreys

french executioner by cc humphreysFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: historical fiction
Series: French Executioner #1
Length: 391 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Date Released: October 7, 2014 (originally published in 2001)
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

It is 1536 and the expert swordsman Jean Rombaud has been brought over from France by Henry VIII to behead his wife, Anne Boleyn. But on the eve of her execution Rombaud swears a vow to the ill-fated queen – to bury her six-fingered hand, symbol of her rumoured witchery, at a sacred crossroads. Yet in a Europe ravaged by religious war, the hand of this infamous Protestant icon is so powerful a relic that many will kill for it… From a battle between slave galleys to a Black Mass in a dungeon, through the hallucinations of St Anthony’s Fire to the fortress of an apocalyptic Messiah, Jean seeks to honour his vow.

My Review:

If this were a contemporary novel, it would probably fall under the heading of “magical realism” but it isn’t so it doesn’t. Instead, it’s a historical novel in which magic happens, but it’s the kind of magic that is the result of the power of human belief; and in the mid-1500s, people did believe in magic and miracles.

Also in demons and black masses, but every silver lining has its cloud.

This is also not a book about Anne Boleyn, although her spirit certainly has a part to play in the events that occur. Instead, this is a historical action/adventure tour of Europe as the man who committed Anne’s execution chases her severed, six-fingered hand through battles, torture, slavery and even a pirate rescue in order to fulfill a vow.

french executioner by cc humphreys original coverThe original cover (at left) featured a portrait of Anne Boleyn. IMHO it’s a better cover than the new one, but confuses the issue about who the star of this show really is.

This is one of those stories where its the journey that makes it worth reading, the goal is only the means to place “the end” at the finale of the trip.

Jean Rombaud was the French executioner imported to England as one last favor to his about-to-be-late Queen Anne Boleyn. She asked for a swordsman because it was supposed to be quicker and therefore painless. (There are some fairly horrific stories of axe-beheadings that would make this a reasonable request under the circumstances, for certain values of reasonable)

The swordsman doing the job is what happened in history. Where this tale differs is that instead of the standard villainess or victim portrait of Anne, we follow swordsman Jean Rombaud as he tries to keep Anne’s famous hand for burial at a crossroads in their mutual Loire homeland.

He found Anne spiritual and somewhat saintly. He made her a vow, and he intends to keep it.

But he has an opposite number, a venal archbishop who plans to use the hand for the power he believes it holds either in alchemy or to summon Satan. Possibly both.

What follows is a repetition of chase-catch-release as first Jean has the hand, and then Archbishop Cibo steals it from him through superior force of arms, or just superior villainy. As they chase each other through Europe, Jean picks up a rag-tag band of followers who are after the Archbishop for compelling reasons of their own.

Jean and his comrades survive an episode of being galley slaves on a French ship, overtake a band of pirates by recruiting one of their number; pluck the hand out of the midst of a Black Mass and even help a young woman rescue her father from Cibo’s clutches. Of course, at the time that young woman is pretending to be a young man who can’t figure out that what she feels for Jean is more than friendship or hero-worship, while Jean can’t figure out why he’s suddenly developed an interest in young men, or at least one particular young man.

Their slowly developing love story was a bit of sweetness in the midst of tons of derring-do adventure, much of which nearly results in disaster.

Jean Rombaud has more lives than a cat. Following him as a uses them up in order to keep his vow makes for one rollicking adventure.

Escape Rating B+: This story takes a while to get started, but once it has you firmly in its six-fingered grip, it doesn’t let go.

The cast of characters that Jean either helps or opposes provides an introduction into what was best and worst of the mid-16th century. Jean himself is a mercenary; he plies his trade wherever he gets paid, and as often uses his sword in battle as on the headsman’s block. Along his career, he has encountered many men like himself, who live each day for the next battle.

He also doesn’t think of himself as a leader, and is astonished, and often exasperated, to find himself leading a band instead of just being one of the followers.

Two of the men who follow him are men he fought against on one particular battlefield. And so is the chief lieutenant for the Archbishop. All of them fought for pay, so it doesn’t matter that they were on opposite sides before, only their positions now.

One man is a Norse mercenary, the other is a former Janissary. They follow Jean because it gives them purpose. Beck follows Jean because she hunts the Archbishop. Disguised as a boy, Beck has been desperately trying to find her way into the Archbishop’s dungeons, because he is holding her father prisoner. She finds common cause with Jean because they hunt the same quarry, not because she believes in his quest.

Then there’s “The Fugger” who rescues Jean from a gibbet in return for his own redemption. He nearly doesn’t find it.

Read this one for the adventure. Jean and his crew so often end up in dire straits, only to be rescued by fortune, by providence, or by each other.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.