Mayflowers for November by Malyn Bromfield
Publication date: 4th March 2016**
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Historical
Approximate reading time*: 6 hours, 30 mins
Published by: Endeavour Press
Available at: Amazon.co.uk
(*Reading time is based on the time it took me to read it.)
(**Date is as supplied by NetGalley.)
A sensational novel depicting Anne Boleyn’s dramatic downfall through the eyes of a servant in the court of Henry the Eighth.
Avis Grinnel’s life is forever changed when a young musician arrives unexpectedly to escort her to the innermost sanctum of King Henry VIII’s royal court.
However, it is not the king who has demanded her presence but his new queen, the much-disliked Anne Boleyn.
She has been told Avis is a “little cunning wench who has the sight” and demands she uses her powers to divine whether the queen is pregnant with a girl, or with the boy child the king expects.
From the moment she gives her fateful answer, Avis becomes embroiled in an extravagant world of intrigue, deceit and murderous plotting that is far removed from her lowly home life in the king’s kitchens at Greenwich Palace.
She becomes an unwilling participant and watcher in the alliances and misplaced loyalties of court life as the King wages religious war with the Pope and the churches while changing wives and mistresses in his relentless pursuit of a male heir.
Whispers, lies and rumours abound as the Queen fights for her survival and Avis struggles to balance her life of opulence in the royal chambers with the humble world of her baker parents and a mysterious suitor.
Her story is revealed partly as it unfolds and partly as a deeply-felt memory told to the faithful blind White Boy, who has been at her side for most of her life.
The brutal ending of Anne Boleyn’s reign is already known and written into history but this dramatic and vividly drawn story records the stark reality with an intricate and colourful portrayal of life at all levels in Tudor England.
Malyn Bromfield has drawn on her academic background to create a deeply researched and intensely detailed historical novel that depicts Anne Boleyn’s downfall through the eyes of a servant in the court of Henry the Eighth.
The detail of daily existence, whether it be the extravagant fashions of the courtiers or the tedious tasks of cooks and flunkeys, is richly intricate yet is woven so delicately that the drama never falters.
I was gripped from the beginning, sucked in before the end of the first few pages.
“Only much later did I realise that if something is supposed to be a secret you have to pretend it isn’t there.”
Oh my, and aren’t there a lot of secrets to be kept in the court of Henry VIII…
To see the story of Anne Boleyn unfold in the eyes of a working-class person, especially someone young enough to still be figuring out their place in the world, feels like a fresh pair of eyes on a much-told story. Avis grows up in front of your eyes, amongst politics, gossip, back-stabbing, plotting, and intrigue.
Avis tells her story from the present-time of the 1530s and the future-time of the 1550s. Her future hindsight reflections on the events that passed in her youth show the changing religious face of England at that time, as well the changes in Avis as she has become more worldly.
I am not a fan of hugely descriptive narration (a page and a half to describe a teacup is too much for me), but Bromfield so skillfully brings detail to her narration that the description never once intrudes on the action, and at the same time you can almost smell the pig fat in the kitchens, and breathe the air over the thames. The pictures that Bromfield paints feel authentic, historically accurate, colourful and three-dimensional.
This story has pace, cleverly interwoven plots, and page-turning tension, it is immersive and consuming. I loved it.
P.S. After a short Twitter-chat with @ about the research that must have gone into this book, she kindly sent me a link which includes an interview with Malyn Bromfield, where Bromfield talks about writing and researching the book. It’s well worth a read.