Review: The May Bride by Suzannah Dunn
The royal families of England have always been intriguing to readers, and many authors have capitalized on creating stories based on those families and their scandalous lives. None have provided as much fodder as Henry VIII and his six wives. Entering the fray with a new fictionalized account of one of those wives is Suzannah Dunn, whose The May Bride follows a young Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife, in her journey from naïve girl to future Queen of England.
Jane Seymour is fifteen when her oldest brother Edward marries Katherine Filliol, who is several years older and much more world-wise than the innocent Jane. Instantly enthralled with Katherine, Jane develops a close friendship with her new sister-in-law. Katherine is adventurous and does not conform to the Seymour family’s tidy routine existence. For Jane, Katherine is a breath of fresh air.
When Edward is called away to serve King Henry in one of the country’s many skirmishes with France, Katherine begins to withdraw from the family, shutting out all of the Seymours, including Jane. Yet Katherine begins to take an unnatural interest in her father-in-law, Sir John. After Edward returns home, Katherine is discovered to be pregnant, but the child’s birth too soon after Edward’s homecoming results in speculation that the baby is not his. Allegations arise that the child is Sir John’s, which throws all of their lives and futures into turmoil.
Suzannah Dunn is no stranger to writing about Henry VIII’s wives. She is the author of nine novels, including The Confession of Katherine Howard, a work about Henry’s fifth wife. Dunn’s knowledge about the period serves her well in The May Bride, for her details about life in 1500s England are brilliantly executed in her descriptions of Jane’s industrious daily life on an estate. Dunn also does an excellent job of portraying Jane as a truly innocent and naïve girl. Although Jane does not understand the moodiness of her new sister-in-law, she does recognize Katherine’s inability to settle into her new home. Jane sometimes catches hints of impropriety, but she does not recognize what she sees until it is too late.
Although the book is about one of my favorite time periods and its people, I had some difficulty sticking with the book due to the author’s use of a stream-of-consciousness-like technique for Jane’s inner dialogue. Stream-of-consciousness is often difficult to follow (just pick up any book by William Faulkner for proof), but Dunn strings together too many nonessential words and phrases until the flow of the work becomes disrupted. For example, Dunn writes, “How did my mother feel when Katherine’s hands closed around her own? She herself had once been the bride to cross Wolf Hall’s threshold – she’d been the one with the money and connections, though, and even several years, too, on her husband – and one day, in turn, this new daughter-in-law was to take her place as matriarch of the Seymour family.” Eventually, I adjusted to Dunn’s style, and because the author used this technique less as the book progressed, I found the work enjoyable.
One small problem with the book is its cover teaser: “Marrying the King was Jane Seymour’s destiny. And her revenge…” The teaser is misleading, for it makes the book appear to be about Jane’s relationship with Henry VIII, when in fact, only the last 35 pages are devoted to Jane’s time as an attendant to Queen Catherine of Aragon and Jane’s eventual marriage to Henry. While this issue may cause consternation for some readers, I rather enjoyed that the book focused more on Jane’s sister-in-law Katherine Filliol, about whom little is known. If readers are able to ignore this detail, then they are in for a pleasant read.
Overall carefully researched and visionary, The May Bride is an entertaining book. Learn more about it on the Pegasus Books website.