I read Suzannah Dunn's The Sixth Wife last summer and enjoyed the narrative style, and the internal dialogue of the characters. I am now reading The Queen of Subtleties, which I assumed referred to Ann Boleyn (who was far from subtle) but I was partly wrong. Subtleties was the term given to confectionery painstakingly carved into something that resembles objects that have subtle meaning to the King. King Henry VIII was keen on having a confectioner make carved sugar roses and other marchepane delights to give to his lovers, and in this period it was Anne Boleyn. However,the title could also be referred to Anne Boleyn, who is the lover but not mistress of Henry, and is Queen in all but name, wearing the garb of a Queen but still in the shadow of Queen Catherine who has not yet been put aside.
The narrators of this story are Anne Boleyn herself and the King's Head of the Confectionery kitchen Lucy Cornwallis who also has interesting conversations with the lute player and musician Mark Smeaton, who allegedly had an affair with Anne Boleyn and was suspected of having fathered Elizabeth I.
Forget your history books, or the dry and dusty language of the costume drama because this book sounds so fresh it is a living breathing entity. The language is modern, and the descriptions vivid. Anne bubbles over with vindictiveness when in her frustration she starts bitching and refers to Queen Catherine as Fat Cath.
What was running through the minds of common subjects with regard to the political upheaval of this time is very well represented here. The sheer volume of staff needed to give Henry VIII a comfortable life, wherever he was, is felt as you read through this account but each festivity and recreation of the King is darkly lined up with tragic events happening outside the court's circle: for example the imprisonment of Cardinal Wolsey and the beheading of the Chancellor Sir Thomas More.
I am enjoying this, I don't care how the story ends, we all know what happens, I am just going with the flow of the thoughts of two vastly contrasting women and reading this, I can almost feel like I am standing on some warm polished oak floorboards, with a smell of candy floss up my nose watching the action, eavesdropping on the characters thoughts.