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All Things Must End But Love - an Editorial Review of "The Light in the Labyrinth"

Book Blurb:

IN THE WINTER OF 1535, young Kate Carey lives with her mother and her new family, far from the royal court. Unhappy with her life and wanting to escape her home, she accepts the invitation of Anne Boleyn, the aunt she idolises, to join her household in London.

But the dark, dangerous labyrinth of Henry VIII's court forces Kate to grow up fast as she witnesses her aunt's final tragic days — and when she discovers a secret that changes her life forever.

All things must end—all things but love.

This new edition of The Light in the Labyrinth includes two short stories and a poem inspired by Catherine Carey.

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Author Bio:

Wendy J. Dunn is an award-winning Australian author, playwright and poet fascinated by Tudor history – so much so she was not surprised to discover a family connection to the Tudors, not long after the publication of her first Anne Boleyn novel narrating the Anne Boleyn story through the eyes of Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder. Her family tree reveals the intriguing fact that one of her ancestral families – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally.

Editorial Review:

''She was a woman who chose to step into the tough political game, she made her calculations, she played a winning hand, and ultimately she lost.'' [Hilary Mantel]

Anne Boleyn [1501 or 1507-1536] is undeniably one of the most written about personalities of all English history. The shelves are full of serious histories of her life and significance, and any number of fictional romances. There is also a profusion of full length films and television series that are devoted to her or else in which she plays a truly significant role. As a personality, she acts as a magnet of interest and drawing a wide spectrum of often highly partisan views from an ever widening audience. The award winning Australian writer, Wendy J Dunn [already a proven expert in writing books of extraordinary power and beauty on the Tudor Age] has added to this already large collection with 'The Light of the Labyrinth', a customarily arresting book and which is subtitled ''The Last Days of Anne Boleyn.'' First time readers who embark upon this book will very soon find themselves enmeshed in the events of the claustrophobic and always disturbingly sinister Court of Henry VIII [not for nothing does the word 'labyrinth' occur in the title] and be struck by the clarity and power of the writing, whilst at the same time being envious at the sheer breadth of detail she reveals of her knowledge of the subject. As the author herself notes, perhaps, rather under emphasising her skill, ''I write fiction informed by history.''

The edifice of the book is constructed through the young voice of Catherine Carey, known throughout the narrative as Kate. This young girl, grand daughter of the highly influential Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond, is plunged into the jungle of the Court, the Labyrinth, and all of its very real dangers, both evident and hidden. Kate is very much the innocent abroad, aged only thirteen at the beginning of the five months that the book covers. Bored and resentful at home and with a mother with a new infant from a stepfather for whom she feels only distaste and resentment; the usurper of her beloved father who had died when she was five. It is her stepfather, Stafford, who suggests she should go to Court. Her own younger brother Harry is already there, under the guidance of her Aunt Nan, none other than Anne Boleyn, the second and controversial wife of Henry VIII! Aunt Nan would desire her presence, for the company of her niece and her poetry, rather like, perhaps, an additional ornament. Surrounding her Aunt Nan and the entire Boleyn family, it seems, is a secret hinted at, but of which Kate is wholly ignorant. Her arrival in London is portentous and chilling:

''A raven cawed and wheeled in the sky above Kate. Now almost at the end of her journey, she followed the raven's flight to the towering gateway of London Bridge. Along its ugly, overhanging spikes, more ravens returned to roost. Their wings fluttered and flapped in short bursts of flight, and opened the morning to horror. Black wings beat amongst white human skulls. Amongst death.......the bird pecked and tugged, tearing at bloody flesh. Dull clots of blood oozed thick and worm-like from ripped skin......its sharp beak scraped against bone and delved into grisly eyeholes. The bitter cold wind brought down to Kate the smell of decaying flesh, fecund on this graveyard wall.''

Welcome to London, indeed! This first sight is In some ways a portent. When, finally, she arrives at Court, Kate is told to never walk about alone, or unarmed! It is clearly no place for the innocent. She is given this advice frequently during her momentous five month stay. She also learns in short order that her beloved Aunt Nan in fact has many enemies, both open and covert. It is a servant who tells her that God has punished the Queen by giving her no son, that she is believed to be the reason for the famine and all the bloodshed of recent years and that the common people treat her with scorn and hate. ''The Queen has a temper that is wisest to stay clear of - but when she smiles it is like sunshine.'' When Kate is summoned, her Uncle George is with the Queen, a woman who seems more febrile, brittle than the young woman she had last seen two years before at her Coronation. She is also bearing the child of Henry, the King. In very short order she is brought to an awareness of the pressures and threats that constantly surround the Queen. She is anxious to meet her brother Harry, just twelve years old, and for him to visit his mother, who misses him badly. Both Aunt Nan and Uncle George are very guarded about the boy. This is a mystery that is soon, terribly, revealed. Kate is even more confused when her Uncle, alienated, it would seem, from his own wife, rides to visit Kate's mother. Kate is to share a Chamber with her cousins, the sisters Madge [Margaret] and Mary Shelton, though Mary is currently ill and away from Court. Madge is fifteen and more worldly wise in the wicked ways of the world. She is a mine of useful 'survival skills', encourages Kate to keep a journal of her thoughts and poetry [the book contains many of Kate's direct thoughts and poems] and is one of many who point out how young Kate is, a fact she is told frequently. Over the difficult months to come, the beautiful and vivacious Madge will prove to be a good and firm friend indeed. All is not well, she tells her, between Henry and his wife. She has born him a daughter [Elizabeth] and lost a child and there are rumours of infidelity, notably with a young girl called Jane Seymour of the Seymour family of Wolf Hall, the ''white mouse'' , as she is called. While Aunt Bess carries his child, the King is often away; at the hunt, on mysterious visits or closeted with the Ministers that Aunt Nan despises so much. This is not a happy Court! The atmosphere is poisonous, toxic.

Kate has a disturbing dream, a portent of a dangerous future. In her dream, her Aunt Nan emerges from a litter at Westminster. She walks towards the Abbey:

''Visions of hate, a torrent of execration. ''Witch! goggle - eyed whore! More cries of protest rang out attended by another roar of hate and yet another, and another. 'God save Queen Katherine! Men and women shouted in unison. [Katherine of Aragon, Henry's first and set aside Spanish wife and much loved by the people, still lives] Aunt Nan's hand protected the pronounced swell of her belly......Now, all the hostile faces disappeared, replaced by her Aunt's: ashen, all joy cast down, large, dark eyes even longer, more unfathomable, deep as the Ocean itself. She was the first woman - Eve who looked back at Eden, forbidden her for eternity. Aunt Nan laughed a pealing laugh of defiance, her hand on her belly again.....''

From the very beginning of her stay, Kate knows that something is terribly wrong. Her beloved Aunt Nan is like a person marooned, beleagured on a hostile shore! Perhaps her mother had been right, perhaps she should never have come to Court! The next morning Madge takes her to attend upon the Queen. All seems well; there is a throng of courtiers, dancing and music - provided by Mark Smeaton, an exceptionally handsome young commoner. Anne is the Queen in her majesty, presiding over a Court united in its apparent devotion to her. She is with her childhood friend, the poet Thomas Wyatt, and his sister Meg Lee, who, like Kate, will stay with the Queen to the bitter end. Kate is introduced to the Queen's chaplain, Latimer, Bishop of Worcester. Like the Arch Bishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, Latimer is a supporter of Anne's controversial Reformist views on the Christian Church in England; One further reason for the implacable hatred of her own Uncle, the deeply Catholic Duke of Norfolk. [ who calls his niece ''The Great Whore''] Kate is introduced to Lady Margaret Douglas, a highly influential Aristocrat and Mary, Duchess of Richmond. Kate takes to the young Duchess of Richmond, but is subjected to a cool and appraising stare from Lady Douglas, a person who seems to know something about Kate that she herself does not! And, finally, her younger brother Harry; much changed and also apparently harbouring some secret. Kate is gripped with a claustrophobic sense of foreboding. She feels the walls closing in and around her beloved Aunt Nan. The only weapon her aunt appears to hold against the 'white mouse' [Jane Seymour] is the son she carries for the King!

''Her new world was so strange. There was an air of expectancy - and of an even greater malaise. The chill of winter seemed to have seeped into the very spirits of those at Court. She could make no sense of it. The Court was like a dead hearth that waited for fire and life.''

The King has finally returned to the Court and Kate is taken to meet the Great Man! ''The King gazed at his court with fierce, frightening blue eyes. She blinked. In the next second, he looked bitter, suffering, suspicious.'' Everyone is clearly terrified of him. On her knees, Kate is presented. The King regards her with attention, looking at her up and down, from head to toes. ''So like his niece, the Lady Margaret, the King's gaze disturbed Kate - she felt like goods brought out for bartering.'' By now, the reader should be accustomed to the presence of such a profusion of kin and relatives and beginning to distinguish friend from foe! At this point, enter Thomas Cromwell. The King's chief councillor is Aunt Nan's biggest critic and enemy, her nemesis and, ultimately, the architect of her violent downfall; a stocky, thick set and ungainly figure. He joins the King in his scrutiny of the cowering and overcome young girl. Yes, he agrees. She very much has the look of her father, and Henry laughs. Back in the safety and warmth of her Chambers, her Aunt Nan takes the hands of the frightened and puzzled girl and tells her the truth behind the mystery that had been so disturbing her: that she, and her brother Henry, are the illegitimate children of the King himself! To Kate's horrified and desperate mind comes a favourite Biblical verse from the Bible:

''For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face: Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.''

This fact had been seemingly known to all, save for Kate herself. Her humiliation and sense of betrayal is great, as is her changed view of her own mother. Kate is now much changed, more adult and far more guarded in her thoughts, statements and movements, even though she entrusts much to her private journal, some of it verging on the treasonous. She is also increasingly aware that her Aunt Nan is not merely the victim of a certain degree of unpopularity and the perhaps momentary disfavour of the King, but is in fact in serious danger of a total eclipse! Small wonder then, that her behaviour and outlook on life becomes so profoundly altered! Kate matures in adversity and learns, if not perhaps cunning then certainly caution. She is, perhaps, no longer ''an innocent cast into a dark labyrinth''. All of the above may perhaps read like a broad summary of the book itself, a precis of what is in fact a remarkable and highly accomplished novel in the finest tradition of historical fiction. For this the reviewer begs the pardon of the reader, for this book is packed to the gunwales with remarkably shrewdly drawn personalities and fast moving events and there is still so much for the reader to discover and savour. There is, for example, the touching narrative of Kate's first romantic encounter with a young, handsome and well bred young man named Francis Knollys and the possibly fatal consequences of such a dalliance for a daughter of the King, illegitimate or otherwise. After all, ''blessings are for daughters who listen to their fathers and do not take it in their foolish heads to go their own way.'' Will, then, her declaration of love and the surrender of her young heart bring happy results? Kate is able to identify the spies and enemies of her Aunt Nan among the teeming crowd that comprises the Court, principally, of course, that arch Tudor Machiavellian, Thomas Cromwell. She is able to detect the saints among the sinners - particularly in the final, tragic days - and benefit from the sage advice of true friends, principally her wise and sensible cousin Madge. The reviewer similarly apologises for quoting quite extensively from the text, The temptation to do so is perhaps forgivable when it is borne in mind the sheer number of exquisitely written passages that Wendy J Dunn so effortlessly creates. Some might seem quite inconsequential, but a descriptive statement such as, for example, ''oil from the cooked fowl washed off her hands and turned into rainbow swirls'' or ''fire had turned most of the night's huge log into a crumbling city of red embers and winding grey ash roads'' may cause the reader to pause and read it once more, for pure relish. There are, for example, many descriptions of the imprisoning effect of a particularly bleak and savage winter upon those 'imprisoned' within the Court:

''Driven by the wind, the tidal Thames frothed and tossed around the royal barges. The wind, a raging tyrant, buffeted its fury upon the palace's walls, holding them at siege. How it howled with frustration, beating all its power on stone walls that kept them safe.''

''The Light in the Labyrinth'' is, first and foremost, a tragedy; the story of a doomed Queen and of those who served her to the bitter end. Two events, perhaps, accelerated this terrible conclusion; the final death of the cast aside Queen Katherine of Aragon and the joy and confidence that this created in the heart of the tyrant Henry VIII and the loss of Anne Boleyn's ace card and chief strength: the miscarriage of her unborn son. There seemed to follow in swift succession a series of events that culminated in the impeachment of Kate's Aunt Nan. The charge is treason and adultery - with the musician Mark Smeaton, her own brother George Boleyn and a number of other notable figures. They are, it would seem, acceptable 'collateral damage' and their heads will join those already on London Bridge. Queen Anne, in a packed court of enemies presided over by her own Uncle, the ever vengeful Duke of Norfolk, is sentenced ''to be either burnt or beheaded at the discretion of our merciful King.'' The Queen is consigned to the Tower, with the ever faithful Kate and a few others and two spiteful enemies for good measure for company. Kate has a final interview with the King who demands to know the reason for her intention to accompany her Aunt Nan to the Tower. In his slippers and wearing glasses, this once vital Lion of a man is bald. He looks old, tired and worn. The man is clearly suffering. What of her loyalty to him? he demands. She has betrayed him and betrayed England. She replies that if he refuses, then she will hate him forever! The final chapters of the book, Anne's final days in the Tower and her death, are truly heart rending to read, perhaps Dunn at her most descriptive and powerful! Anne has always denied the charges of adultery and resigns herself to death. She prays, she forgives and she sings: ''Like an angel, she sang, pure and heart touching, like one who had already left her life behind her. Her narrow face tense with thought, she seemed a sprite or spirit flame not of this world.'' And, on the scaffold itself, [''I have but a little neck''] ''She shone with bright sunlight. She was all beauty, as if she held the answer to life in her hands.''

''The Light in the Labyrinth'' is truly an extraordinary book. It is vivid, exquisitely researched and truly moving. To any reader anxious to improve his or her personal understanding of this tortuous episode in English history this book is an absolute must. This review began with a comment from the late and great Hilary Mantel. It concludes with an observation from another fine and astute observer of the age, Alison Weir:

''Anne Boleyn was an ambitious adventuress with a penchant for vengeance. But I believe it is legitimate to see Anne as a feminist long before her time or, to be accurate, of her time. It is a concept she would have understood, and it underpinned her ambitions and self image.''


The Light in the Labyrinth” by Wendy J. Dunn receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” Award of Excellence from The Historical Fiction Company



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