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The Queen of Subtleties

by Suzannah Dunn

This is a re-telling of a familiar and historic fairytale - how a beautiful young queen falls from enchantress to public enemy. As she attracts increasingly bad press, both King and court choose to believe the worst about her. Suzannah Dunn adds her own stamp to the catastrophic story of Anne Boleyn.

Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. We all know the deaths of Henry's six wives, but how much is known of their lives? This is the starting point for Dunn's clever, compelling new book - the obscure and intriguing life of Anne Boleyn. The story is told by two narrators, Queen Anne on the eve of her execution and Lucy Cornwallis, who was the only female cook in Henry's kitchens, and had the important role as the King's sweet maker. It becomes clear that Lucy is the eponymous queen, and whose subtleties - delicious sugar and marzipan confections, could rival any mistress for the King's affection. As we all know, Henry's court was a dangerous place, full of intrigue and plot, especially for a young queen who had yet to forge powerful alliances. Gradually Anne becomes deeply woven into a web of deceit as her enemies conspire to bring about her downfall, through whatever means they could. This also went as far as a near total discrediting of her only child, Elizabeth; but as they say, the rest is history.

How you feel about Queen of Subtleties depends on your view of historical novels in general. So little is known about Anne's life, because her enemies simply erased or blackened her memory and Suzannah Dunn has pieced together a jigsaw puzzle of known and fictionalised pieces. This cleverly creates a plausible and enchanting version of Anne's life, written in a completely modern, vernacular style. This book certainly challenges preconceptions about Anne, and I rather hope that she was, as Dunn has written, a courageous, likeable and quick-witted woman.

Read our interview with Suzannah Dunn.

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