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Reviewed by Colleen Turner

When Margaret “Madge” Shelton’s first cousin, Anne Boleyn, marries Henry VIII, their family’s prospects begin to rise on the tide of the King’s affections. Madge is sent to court as a lady in waiting to the new queen in hopes of helping Anne keep her balance on the precarious throne until she can give the king a son and heir, at which time Anne and her family’s influence over the king will be secure. As she works to serve the queen to the best of her abilities, Madge finds herself keeping two suitors at bay: one is Henry Norris, a conceited, lecherous man who has worked his friendship with the king to become betrothed, against her wishes, to Madge; the other is Arthur Brandon, bastard son of the Duke of Suffolk, a man below her station and one the king and her family would never approve her to marry. She soon finds she cannot fight her feelings for Arthur any longer and they both long to find a way to be together.

While Madge is discovering young love, good King Henry’s affection for his queen has begun to waiver. Anne knows she must do something drastic to renew Henry’s passion for her, allowing her the time and means to have a son. When the King begins to look elsewhere to satisfy his desires, Anne asks Madge to make the ultimate sacrifice: to seduce the king and become his mistress while also working to turn him back to his wife. She also promises that, if Madge can accomplish this, she will use her influence with the King to break Madge’s betrothal to Norris, leaving her open to seek a marriage elsewhere.

Does Madge’s affection for the Queen and her wish to marry Arthur overpower the sin of adultery? And what guarantee does she have that the Queen will be able to accomplish what she says?

As Anne continues to fall out of favor with the King more is put on the line than Madge’s marriage prospects. The very lives of the Queen and everyone supporting her, including Madge and her friends, is threatened and the various factions of the court must brace themselves to see which way the King’s favor, and destruction, will turn.

Anne Clinard Barnhill, author of At the Mercy of the Queen, breathes new life into the much told story of Henry VIII and his second wife by presenting it from a fresh new perspective. This story is heavily pro-Anne and presents her as kind, pious and concerned for the welfare of her English subjects, even as they fail to love her. While the writing makes it effortless to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the court, I found the relationship between Arthur and Madge hard to become invested in, especially given how the book ends. Adding him to the storyline seemed unnecessary at times and appears to be one of the main ways the author veered from true history.

That being said, I enjoyed seeing the court from a more minor character’s perspective and experiencing the quick shifts, from the glorious highs to the perilous lows, that one experienced in this court of vipers.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.

Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Griffin. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.