Karen’s Historical Fiction Challenge Update: Tarnish by Katherine Longshore
So, I have now read the 4th out of 5 books in my personal historical fiction challenge. That book was Tarnish by Katherine Longshore. So, let’s chat.
We all know I am not awesome at history, that’s the reason for the challenge. This book is about Anne Boleyn, and even I know who she is. I loved her in this book because she was the anti-thesis of everything that I struggle with as a historical fiction nonreader: she is strong willed, intelligent, and refuses to be put in the pretty, pretty box that a lot of women are forced to be in. But she suffers for it in reputation, when we first meet her she has just returned from being sent away for a previous thing. Longshore creates a strong, admirable female character while remaining authentic to the time period.
Anne is trying to seek the favor of the king in court and she strikes up a deal with the devil, in this case the devil is named Thomas Wyatt. Everything about their bargain is interesting as they both try to remain true to their character, win, and to up their station in court. The one thing they can’t do is to allow themselves to fall in love. That would be bad and put both of their stations in jeopardy. Plus, Wyatt is already married. But marriage isn’t much of a deterrent in this time period because almost all the men have mistresses and very few of the people marry for love. That in itself is a very interesting aspect of this world.
Like The Rose Throne (which is technically fantasy, not historical fiction) and Maid of Honor, there is a lot of action taking place here in court. And I don’t mean the throw the book at them court, but the we are all part of the king’s (or queen’s) inner circle jockeying for position court. If you like that type of historical fiction, then you will find this to be an excellent read.
The one thing I really struggled with was the YA aspect of this: I am not sure that it really has a teen voice. Anne is supposed to be around 16 in this book, and of course she wouldn’t talk like a modern day teenager, but her voice was really mature and sophisticated. That’s probably correct for the time period, but I don’t know how well my teen readers would embrace it. Also, there was a lot of very frank, mature discussion of sex. For example, Anne’s sister is a mistress to the king and often refers to herself as a whore. So while I thought it was a really well developed and written story, it didn’t necessarily read as YA to me.
So, things that are done well and I really liked:
The characters are richly developed
The deal with the devil and the plan to catch a king, with all of its emotional complexity
The behind the scenes look at a well known historical character and incident
The thoughtful look at what it means to fall in love and some people are willing to sacrifice that for status
There was a lot of interesting family stuff in here that I didn’t mention
Things I am on the fence about:
To me, it didn’t read “young adult”. It would work just as well in the adult section and I think find a much bigger audience there. But then, this type of historical fiction is not as popular with my teens as it is with adult readers. That’s how it read, to me, an adult book that teen readers of the genre would also love. But I read a ton of reviews on the title and I am the only one who says this so I must be doing something wrong. But then, I don’t read a lot of historical fiction (hence the challenge) so I have nothing really to compare it to.
School Library Journal and Kirkus both gave it favorable reviews. It is well written, engaging, and definitely fills an important collection need. Add it. Longshore’s first title is Gilt, a novel about Catherine Howard’s marriage to Henry VIII.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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