I was really looking forward to an atrocious book, and was actually rather disappointed. Anne and Henry, the modern day retelling of the story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, set in an American High School, was decided blehh, although somewhat excruciatingly awkward when it came to its attempt to update such a setting.

As a stand-alone novel, it is decidedly ok, typical spoilt teenagers behaving badly. It’s in the adaptation that it becomes cringe-worthy. The ‘characters’ simply don’t translate well in a modern setting. Tudor England was a deeply patriarchal culture, no better exemplified in Henry VIII, a totalitarian who had all-say in what was done in his kingdom. In a society when even the smartest and most ambitious woman could only attach herself to a man she hoped was as smart and ambitious as she was (and that he wouldn’t take the credit for all her ideas and shove her in a nunnery when he got bored), you can understand why someone like Anne Boleyn focused her intellect, ambition and sensuality on the highest prize in the land – a crown. And you can understand why so many courtiers were just as focused in dragging her down and installing their own girl in her place.

The concept simply doesn’t translate well in a modern setting. A woman with Anne’s abilities in today’s culture wouldn’t be satisfied with being the accomplished girlfriend of the real star; she would want to be a star in her own right. Ius’s Anne doesn’t even seem too concerned with Henry’s wealth and desirability and likes/loves him for himself. She has a back story of being abused and exploited by a series of men, including her sister Mary’s boyfriend, who sounded kinda sociopathic to be honest, and ended up in an institution after she caught Anne and her boyfriend together. (The real Mary Boleyn outlived both her siblings as well as their parents, and lived her remaining years in wealth and happiness to her second husband, a love match.)  I think the point was that men love to pursue women and twist the story around to make the woman look like the bad guy but it all seemed rather pointless and soapie to me.

Katherine Aragon has turned into a rich-bitch-scorned type character who persecutes and humiliates Anne for daring to go out with Henry after he had broken up with her. She and her gang of rich, spoilt kids behaving badly set Anne up (who’s main crime seems to be a tendency towards drinking too much in times of crisis – utterly not what the real Boleyn would have done) to be dumped by Henry and kicked out of school. I think the Katherine character is the most obvious way the story fails to translate into a modern high-school setting, because Katherine of Aragon was, by the time Anne came along, a middle-aged woman who had sacrificed her youth and health trying to have a son, not to mention kept England afloat with her military mind and diplomatic ties. That Katherine had every right to be pissed about being dumped. Ius’s Katherine is closer to Katherine Howard.

As I said the story itself was an average rich-kids-behaving-badly story. (Speaking of high-school retellings, it reminded me a little of Cruel Intentions.) It’s the subject matter that makes it awkward to read because so many of the personalities that stood out in medieval times don’t have a place in modern society.

At least Anne got to live, walking out before they could officially expel her and doing some damage on her motorcycle on her way out. I can’t help but hope that Anne  went on to do great things that made Henry, Katherine, et al, look even smaller than they were.


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