Review of TARNISH by KATHERINE LONGSHORE
(review based on an advance reading copy)
A while back I did a post on retold fairy tales. It’s amazing how we can read/hear/watch the same tale over and over again and each time admire the subtle, or not so subtle, differences. The same is true in historical fiction. Not only do many of us already know the history but we often read numerous novels all depicting the same event, period, character(s), etc. Henry VIII, his wives, and Anne Boleyn in particular have been popular historical fiction subjects for a long time now. While I, too, enjoy this niche in historical fiction, I’m always a little wary that my newest selection won’t distinguish itself enough from the other books I’ve read on the same topic.
I already read and reviewed Longshore’s GILT, a look at Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, as seen through the eyes of her friend Katherine Tylney. Longshore certainly makes her characters distinct people who can stand out from a line of fictionalized historical people. In the case of TARNISH, Longshore emphasizes Anne’s youth more so than any other Anne Boleyn novel I’ve read. Of course, she also makes an interesting choice to set the story before Anne catches the king’s eye, so she would be younger than the portrayals of Anne as queen. This story remains about Anne more so than any other such novel I’ve read - not about her affair with or marriage to a king or her later demonization and death. All Anne wants is some control over her own life, which really makes her no different than any other teenager.
The clothes focus went over my head a little. Not only because I’m not particularly invested in fashion in this time period, but I have little knowledge about the terminology for clothing back then. Many outfits are described in great detail, but I couldn’t picture them and often skimmed those passages. Of course, it does add to the sense of where the characters’ priorities lie and emphasizes how breaking from any kind of trend makes someone as easy mark for attention, both positive and negative.
I started this novel expecting the story would follow Anne’s affair and marriage to the king and then end with her death or an ominous note referencing the inevitable. As I’ve said, though, Longshore chose to set Anne Boleyn’s story pre-Henry, at the point in her life when her future stretches out before her full of different possible outcomes. It’s definitely worth reading Longshore’s own explanation behind this decision and, while it caught me off guard, I have to agree it was a bold and successful move.