I finished The Lady in the Tower today, about, of course, Anne Boleyn. I suspect this book is to Plaidy what The Other Boleyn Girl is to Philippa Gregory: if you've read one Plaidy book, this is probably it. It's one of the later Plaidys, published in the United States in 1986, and not surprisingly, it was one of the first two Plaidy novels to be reissued by Three Rivers Press. Judging from the very rumpled state of my library copy, it's been quite a popular read.
This was actually a re-read of this novel for me. I read it several years ago, when I was just getting interested in historical fiction in a big way, and it's probably the first novel I'd read about Anne Boleyn. Having read a number of novels about Anne since, I was pleased to see how well it compared to more recent efforts.
Like many other novels about doomed queens, The Lady in the Tower is narrated in the first person by the heroine on the eve of her execution. (Question: are there novels about doomed kings told in the first person on the eve of the hero's execution? I can't remember a single one if so.) Anne looks back to her childhood at Hever, her intellectually stimulating time at the French court, her thwarted romance with Henry Percy, and her relationship with Henry VIII. She tries to understand the mistakes she's made, and though she judges Henry harshly, she's not inclined to let herself off easily either.
Those who have been accustomed to more sensational portraits of Anne won't find one here. Anne doesn't poison anyone, sleep with anyone besides Henry, engage in wild outdoors sex, or speak in modern American slang. Plaidy's prose, however, is rather flat compared to that of some of her more recent counterparts. There's some clunky dialogue, in particular that between Anne and her brother, and the chapters in which Henry schemes to divorce Catherine tend to drag, though a reader who is new to the history involved might not think so. The first person narrative imposes its own restrictions; by being limited to Anne's perspective, we miss out on other potentially fascinating ones, such as those of Anne's male courtiers.
Still, Plaidy tells an absorbing story, and her Anne is a sympathetic, yet flawed heroine. Those who are new to the story of Henry VIII and his six wives would be well advised to start their fictional journey here.