by Katherine Longshore
Series: Standalone companion
Released on: June 12th, 2014
Published by: Viking Juvenile
Rating: 4 stars
Word rating: yesss feminism
Reviewed by: Blythe
Mary Howard has always lived in the shadow of her powerful family. But when she’s married off to Henry Fitzroy, King Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, she rockets into the Tudor court’s inner circle. Mary and “Fitz” join a tight clique of rebels who test the boundaries of court’s strict rules with their games, dares, and flirtations. The more Mary gets to know Fitz, the harder she falls for him, but is forbidden from seeing him alone. The rules of court were made to be pushed…but pushing them too far means certain death. Is true love worth dying for?
"I am a FitzRoy. I am a duchess. I do not need a man to give me my identity, Father. I have my own."
History fascinates me, especially anything with the Boleyns, but I've never been one to read much of it in fiction. As much as history itself interests me, historical fiction has always been something I've steered clear of. But, with that having been said, I am so glad I gave Brazen a chance, because Katherine Longshore has the perfect voice for this type of story; she embodies each of the characters and gives them all depth past what we know from a historical standpoint, and provides compelling perspectives of life in England during Henry VIII's reign.
Brazen is a daunting novel, spanning at over 500 pages with multiple relationships and lots of similar names and confusing family trees. However, in all its 500-paged glory, Brazen did not bore me once; it's compelling from the start, and although there is little plot for a majority of the first half, I found myself drawn to the characters and their relationships, and especially Longshore's writing.
The plot, for what I'd say constitutes as much of the novel, is primarily the romance between Mary and Fitz, until things pick up in the second half during which things get intense and deliciously scandalous. In the very beginning of the novel, Mary Howard is wed to Henry FitzRoy, who is King Henry VIII's illegitimate son. This romance is something of a forbidden one, though, as the King has forbidden the two from consummating their marriage. The romance is a slow build, which is why the first half of the novel was for the most part without a plot, but once it gets going it's sweet and a nice relationship overall. Although it does get really sappy later on, which I wasn't the hugest fan of, I still like each of the characters in the romance individually, and enjoyed seeing their romance develop over the course of the novel. And also, the romance never felt like it was too much, despite it having been one of the main focal points throughout the novel.
Longshore's amazing writing grants life to each of the characters, and I loved seeing them grow along with their relationships; this is especially true with the friendships between Mary, and her best friends Madge and Margaret. One thing I found rather tiring with the characterization is that Madge is the obligatory sexually promiscuous friend of the main character, which I find is a tedious trope. But, this was handled moderately well in here and actually made way for some plot developments, which I enjoyed. I'm just becoming less and less enthused with this particular trope. Moreover, Mary is a great and strong character whose development is noticeable and well-written from the beginning of the novel to the end, and her character growth is exceptional; Anne Boleyn is wonderful in here, and I am still quite in awe at how much life and character Longshore can give to people whom we only know through historical records. It's an excellent skill--to give such life to characters--and one Longshore utilizes well. On the same hand of great characterization, the portrayal of Henry VIII is chilling as Longshore slowly and believably builds his character up into a complete monster, shedding bits of each of his façades as the novel wears on. Also related, the misogyny and patriarchal views of the society were established really well in the novel to build the world and some of its awful people, and it made everything in the novel more impacting to see that some aspects of the misogyny aren't much of a far cry from what we see today.
The second half of Brazen is amazing and intense and full of scandals, and I absolutely loved how Longshore chose to execute it. Whereas the first is slow yet engaging, building up to the events of the second half, the second half is all gut punches and twists and turmoil, and it's probably sadistic of me to say how much I enjoyed it, but so much. It takes a genuinely talented author to write a book that shocks its audience even when they know the outcome, and that is exactly what Longshore accomplishes with Brazen; I was prepared for what was coming in the last quarter of the novel, but damn if I wasn't left shell shocked by that awesomeness and intensity.
With Brazen, Katherine Longshore has made a fan out of me, and now I am desperate to get my hands on her other novels revolving around Anne Boleyn and other figures during this time period in history. These books have been pitched as historical Gossip Girl, and I can absolutely attest to that: it's got drama, swoons, and scandals, and it's such a fun and well-written read.