Wife After Wife by Olivia Hayfield
Publication Date: January 21, 2020
TW: depression, multiple losses of pregnancies, suicide, death, cheating, & dismissive of mental health
Oof I have a lot of thoughts about this book. I think this might be the longest review I have ever written. Be thankful you are not my parents who got to hear me ranting about this book quite a bit. I am not going to utilize our traditional Words About Words review format. Also, look at me posting an ARC review BEFORE the book is coming out. I also want to say that I usually don’t post negative reviews, but I wanted to share my thoughts on this one.
For a brief backstory, When I was young, I loved reading about Elizabeth I and as a result ended up reading quite a few things about Henry VIII. My mom actually read me The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir when I was like 10. I also recently discovered Six the Musical which you all should listen to. It’s epic. So, I like this time period a lot. I was really excited to read a modern imagining of Henry VIII.
I do want to mention that this book isn’t exactly what I wanted and thus I had a few more issues than if I had just gone into this one blind. I was bummed that Henry even had a POV (Also, sidebar, I am just going to use everyone’s historical names so if you are familiar with the history, you’ll be able to follow along). Because let’s be real, Henry is the least interesting part in The Story of Henry VIII and His Wives. I also thought this was actually going to be a feminist retelling and it really isn’t, even if the author claims it is. Giving women characters POVs and making one of them ambitious doesn’t automatically make a story feminist. Henry is the main character; the wives are there for his development. Also, the author tries to provide some context of why Henry does all these things, but most of it is not explained in depth. She also tries to make this a sort of redemption story and I’m sorry and it might be petty, but I did not want to see Henry VIII redeemed. As a result, I was not a fan.
It reads a bit like Gossip Girl, a bunch of rich people living their lives and not being nice or held responsible for any of their actions. Part of this is due to the fact that it covers a long period of time and already this book is long and without making it longer it was hard to go in depth. How could the author fixed this? Perhaps by eliminated Henry’s POV and focusing on the women.
Overall, it was frustrating to see women, who had potential to be awesome characters, get reduced to one dimensional stereotypes to further a man’s redemption. This is a story about Henry, with his wives playing supporting characters in his life. The book is called Wife after Wife which I guess indicates it being Henry’s story, but then don’t put a woman on the cover…Ooops my feminism is coming out.
To play off a popular meme:
Tired: Book “redeeming” Henry VIII
Wired: Book about his wives where they each get agency of their own story
I’ll go through the story wife by wife just to (hopefully) express all my thoughts. There are some spoilery thoughts so if you still want to read this book be wary continuing.
CATHERINE OF ARAGON: Catherine of Aragon has an extremely sad storyline. I mean they all have sad storylines, but Catherine 100% revolves around Henry. She falls into a depression after a few miscarriages and a stillbirth and Henry is mad that she doesn’t recover quick enough and then he cheats on her. WITH TWO DIFFERENT WOMEN during their relationship and his reasons are terrible.
ELIZABETH BLOUT (mistress): The author uses the trope of “pretty blond lures man away” as if Henry could have just NOT gone to bed with her. Most of the blame is placed on her. I do not believe she has a POV and is barely mentioned after Henry and fam run into her and Henry’s son. I don’t understand why Henry never mentions this kid again, especially at the end when he is more about family etc. Sidebar: IF we had not seen Henry’s POV I would not have been mad about this storyline, I mean it happened IRL so…but Henry’s reasoning was terrible and I mean I guess men don’t need a reason to cheat, but like…no depth or explanation.
MARY BOLEYLN (mistress): Oof Henry leads her on hardcore and then gets mad when she expects him to marry her. Like dude, you led her on for YEARS and then you expect her to be fine with just ending it?
ANNE BOLEYN: Since she is Elizabeth’s mom, she has probably been the wife that I always tend to find the most interesting. In this book the author tries to make her a bad ass Ice Queen, but yet she too also falls under Henry’s spell. Don’t even get me started how she treats her sister. She is great at her job, but Henry gets her the job and all of her promotions after that. I also would’ve liked to see some of Anne’s famous characteristics (potentially being a witch, the moles, cats) featured. She was still my favorite character. She does try to leverage higher positions from Henry, but it’s so sketch because they are married. Also, Henry is not directly responsible for her death whereas in history he literally gives the order for her to die so?? Another time where this Henry is sort of redeemed compared to his historical counterpart.
JANE SEYMOUR: The stereotypical nice and comforting girl who isn’t too pretty but is in love with her boss. Yes, she is Henry’s secretary. Yes, Anne finds them in bed together. I finished this book less than a week ago and remember nothing about her.
ANNE OF CLEVES: Henry and her meet via a chatroom and get “married” online. When she comes to visit Henry sees that she isn’t pretty and ends things. A blink and you’ll miss it wife.
KATHERINE HOWARD: A young girl who likes stuff that young girls are made fun of for. She likes the Kardashians and it is mentioned like three times. No one cares. We get it that you’re trying to make her seem dumb. Henry is also, once again, not directly responsible for her death. Like… I’m sorry but IRL she apparently was running the halls of Hampton Court yelling when she was grabbed and then executed.
CATHERINE PARR: She was Henry’s nurse and non-descript honestly. Also, spoiler but Henry doesn’t die at the end of this which is dumb. Catherine Parr outlives him that is part of the point!
I had many qualms about this book which resulted in me not enjoying it. It was a great idea, but the author and I had different ideas of what we wanted the story to be. Obviously, she wrote it so can do whatever the heck she wants, I just would have enjoyed it more if it took a different direction. It’s fine I’m just going to listen to Six the Musical again.
*I won a copy of this ARC through a Shelf Awareness giveaway. Thank you to the publisher for a copy*
Thanks for reading!