Monday, 13 May 2013

Book: Six of One by JoAnn Spears

This is a rather odd take on the divorced-beheaded-died-divorced-beheaded-survived tale most people know of Henry VIII and his wives.

The story follows a contemporary woman, Dolly who is about to marry a man called Harry, who in turn has 6 ex-wives (all alive) and three children; Mary, Lizzie and Neddie. At first I thought that the similarities between Harry and Henry VIII were a bit annoying and a lack of imagination on the part of the author, however once the concept of characters being 'cosmically linked' was explained, I understood why this was as it was and saw that this was how the plot would work.

On the eve of her wedding, Dolly is transported to a place between life and death (at least I guess that is where it is) and speaks to a variety of Tudor women, including Henry VIII's grandmother, mother, sisters, daughters and wives, among others. The lesser characters, so not the wives or Lady/Princess/Queen Elizabeth I, didn't seem particularly fleshed out, but then again they didn't really need to be, they were only in the frame for a short while.

The wives were interesting. The author has taken the classic stories about the wives and changed them so that each of the wives has a surprising reveal, none of which I could see coming. It was quite refreshing to hear the wives' tales without any input from Henry or any other male character. Even more surprisingly perhaps, is the fact that the least surprising story was that of Ann Boleyn. In fact this was also the story I liked the least, the others all seemed like events that by some strange twist of fate could happen (particularly for Katherine Parr and Anne of Cleves), whereas Ann Boleyn's tale required things to break the laws of the world we live in. I suppose this seems a little strange considering that the concept of the book is based on that of an afterlife, heaven, hell and God, and also from someone who has a read a lot of fantasy. In this case Ann was the wife that I believed the least, she just didn't quite have the spunk that I have come to expect from fictional Ann or Anne Boleyns.

Also I was surprised about the lack of information about Catherine Wiloghby, given her part in the story. Her name is mentioned, as well as a few references to her mother in Katherine of Aragon's Tale, and a couple of sentences explaining her marriage to Charles Brandon and subsequent interest into her from Henry VIII. It felt like more could be said about her, I think it would have been interesting to have written about what happened to her after the death of Henry VIII to compare with what happens next for the contemporary characters.

It sounds as if I am being particularly negative about this book, I am not meaning to, it is very different and original. And though it does not follow the standard constraints of historical or Tudor fiction, it is worth reading, particularly if you are looking for something light and easy to read.