In this thrillingly entertaining audiobook, Nicola Shulman interweaves the bloody events of Henry VIII's reign with the story of English love poetry and the life of its first master, Henry VIII's most glamorous and enigmatic subject: Sir Thomas Wyatt.
Learned divines despised it, sober heads ignored it, but for Henry, the beau ideal of chivalry, poetry made things happen. It affected his wars, his diplomacy and his many marriages. It was at the root of his fatal attraction to Anne Boleyn, a source of her power and a means of her destruction.
Poet, statesman, spy, lover of Anne Boleyn and favorite both of Henry VIII and his sinister minister Thomas Cromwell, the brilliant Wyatt was admiredand envied in equal measure. His love poetry began as risque entertainment for ambitious men and women at the slippery top of the court. But when the axe began to fall and Henry VIII's laws made his subjects go silent in terror, Wyatt's poetic skills became a way to survive. He saw that a love poem was a place where secrets could hide.
I had the opportunity to review this title before it was released in print last year. I jumped at the chance to review the book in AudioBook form, while the 389 pages of text are layered with references, poetry and fact, I wanted the chance to see if hearing the words would be easier or more difficult to affix references and information than the easy flip-back a page or two which can be done with the book in written form.
As with my first review, the book starts with a bang using poetry as it was used in the time of the Tudor court: information sharing, poking fun, setting alliances, all used very much in concert and context with the affairs of the court and courtiers of the day. Narration provided by Paul Fleschner is both mellifluous and crisp, providing nuanced recitations of the poetry that enhances the phrasing and provides structure and emphasis to lines that are further used to elucidate the author’s points as she puts the information into a context.
This really is a wonderful listen for fans of the Tudor Era of England, particularly the years of Henry VIII and his penchant and predilection for lopping off the heads of those who were once close confidantes yet later were to displease him. The use of poetry and repeated or excerpted lines to expand upon a specific point of history or a moment, and showing the changes to that poetry as it is repeated and shared by people with often differing agendas. While there is plenty of the poetic, we are also provided with text from Wyatt’s letters while serving as diplomat: far less rhythmic in pace but still interesting for the construct of what is said, against that left unsaid and filled in by the author’s diligent research and cross referencing.
What is important to note is that Wyatt is a man whose more literary endeavors are not as well-known or referenced as his time in the service to the crown as his alleged status as lover to Anne Boleyn, the story manages to provide an interesting light into the lesser explored perspectives of Henry from a courtier, subject, sometimes friend and often puppet of the king.
Far more smoothly constructed and easy to follow in the earlier chapters, the story does start to become more ponderous as the lyrical and often playful phrasing of the poetry takes a back seat to more ‘official’ information in the form of diplomatic treatises and the often convoluted notations from a man engaged in spying. Overall, this is an engaging story that is only enhanced by the smooth delivery and tone of its narration.
I received an AudioBook copy of the title from the publisher via AudioBook Jukebox. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility
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