Bookish | Anne & Henry by Dawn Ius (Review)

22453734In this wonderfully creative retelling of the infamous—and torrid—love affair between Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII, history collides with the present when a sizzling romance ignites in a modern-day high school.

Henry Tudor’s life has been mapped out since the day he was born: student body president, valedictorian, Harvard Law School, and a stunning political career just like his father’s. But ever since the death of his brother, the pressure for Henry to be perfect has doubled. And now he’s trapped: forbidden from pursuing a life as an artist or dating any girl who isn’t Tudor-approved.

Then Anne Boleyn crashes into his life.

Wild, brash, and outspoken, Anne is everything Henry isn’t allowed to be—or want. But soon Anne is all he can think about. His mother, his friends, and even his girlfriend warn him away, but his desire for Anne consumes him.

Henry is willing to do anything to be with her, but once they’re together, will their romance destroy them both?

Inspired by the true story of Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII, Anne & Henry beautifully reimagines the intensity, love, and betrayal between one of the most infamous couples of all time.

I received this book for free from Simon & Schuster as a Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon door prize winner.

Personal Enjoyment: ●●●●○
Writing Quality: ●●●○○
Recommendability: ●●●○○

I’ve always been a huge admirer of Anne Boleyn. She’s a tragic historical figure: the second wife of King Henry VIII who was accused of seducing the king into marriage before committing adultery, was presumed to be a witch, and was subsequently beheaded. Oh! She’s fabulous. So when I received this book, no matter how ridiculously pink the cover, I was obviously going to pick it up right away.

This story is told in dual perspectives. Dawn Ius writes cleverly enough that you almost begin to feel sympathetic toward Henry Tudor, and in the beginning I quite enjoyed his chapters. However, nothing could top the incredible Anne Boleyn:

“My phone number is spray painted on every bathroom stall between Seattle and Medina– how original– and my affection for motorcycles somehow translates into a heroin addiction. In one creative spin on the truth, I sacrifice kittens and hold seances. Shit, if I was a boy, I’d be considered mysterious.” (58)

That is the exact moment I fell in love. Anne was such a self-aware character. She was 100% unapologetically herself, and the more I got to know her, the more I began to resent Henry. There was just so much going on within her head, yet when it came back around to his point-of-view, he continued to see her as a piece of meat all wrapped in lace. My heart broke when Anne first said “I love you,” but he was so focused on her body to even notice.

Some reviewers have complained about the unbelievable amount of slut-shaming in this book, and I think some might have misunderstood the premise. I don’t recall Anne ever shaming another woman, but the community did turn against her for her supposed promiscuity. Henry’s point-of-view was rampant with over-sexualization of women and slut-shaming, but that’s kind of The Point.

Speaking of characters, don’t go into this book expecting any sort of diversity. At all. All characters were straight. All characters were white. Anne was the only new money in town, having lived in poverty (which, while touched upon, is almost treated as an accessory in her background story instead of a real issue). This book would likely not pass the Bechdel Test (two named female characters having a conversation about something other than the male characters). There is female friendship, but only very artificially. The most diverse character was a white guy from Australia, or Anne with her dark hair in a sea of blondes. It’s not revolutionary or making any grand statements. It’s all about watching history repeat itself in a modern, contemporary, borderline ridiculous setting.

Henry riding across the beach on a horse? Come on.

Dawn Ius’s writing style, when left to her own invention, was quite good! However, when working in the secondary historical incidents/characters, the writing bordered on mechanical and clunky. Sometimes it felt like she was obligated to include certain details, but didn’t care for them herself. I would be interested in reading something entirely from her imagination and not tied to history. Her young adult debut showed a lot of promise. For the first half of the book, I was even convinced this story would turn out differently, happily! But then the last half took a turn for the tragic and I was left confused, upset, and more than a little impressed. I’ve read so many retellings based on Anne Boleyn, it’s pretty tough to make me forget how her story ends. I was so emotional, I almost lowered my star-rating to get back at the historical accuracy.

If you’re looking for a happy ending, this isn’t the book for you. I had a great deal of fun with Anne & Henry.

alecksis.

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