Sunday, 7 September 2014

Anna Reviews: The Light in the Labyrinth

The Light in the Labyrinth
by Wendy J Dunn

If there is one period in English history that has been depicted, over and over again, it is Tudor England. There seems to be something utterly irresistible about Henry VIII and his glorious daughter Elizabeth I, some sort of fascination that attracts readers like flies to a honeypot. Personally, I am not a Tudor fan – I feel a certain fatigue when yet another book detailing the intrigues at the royal court makes an appearance. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy books set in the period – but I’ve had my fill, I think, of Henry and his hapless wives.

This is not to say that the sad end to the passionate affair between Henry and Anne Boleyn leaves me cold – beyond a doubt, this is one of the more scorching love stories in history – but it is a story where fiery passion turns to bitter ash, a spiteful, ageing king wreaking his revenge on his proud and wilful wife. Still: it is a tale all of us have heard, in one way or the other, so is it at all possible to set these sad events to a new, entrancing tune?

When The Light in the Labyrinth landed on my desk, I was therefore somewhat hesitant. Yet another book about Anne Boleyn, this enigmatic lady who so enthralled the king that he broke with the Holy Church for her sake – what new insights could possibly be offered? One chapter into the book, I no longer cared about new insights. I cared about prickly, confused Kate, Anne Boleyn’s fourteen-year-old niece.

Katherine Carey is a resentful, angry young girl. She considers her mother a fool for marrying beneath her, she is jealous of her new half siblings, condescending of her commoner stepfather and the only thing little Kate wants is to go to court and serve her adored aunt, Queen Anne. In Kate’s book, Anne is everything her own mother is not: fashionable, witty, powerful – and of course, extraordinarily happy, now that she has achieved her ambitions and become queen.

Kate’s mother, Mary, does not want her to go to court, but at long last she relents, even if her demeanour clearly shows Kate just how much her mother hates letting her go – or is it fear that causes her mother’s face to pale? Kate doesn’t care. She is going to London to live with the queen and to finally see her brother, Harry, who for the last few years has lived at court, despite being younger than Kate. She vaguely recalls her mother’s distress when Harry was taken from her – several years ago – to be brought up elsewhere, and she doesn’t quite understand why her brother was so brutally separated from his family, but conveniently blames her mother for it. In Kate’s opinion, everything is her mother’s fault – a typical adolescent reaction.

It is rather fitting that Kate enters London via London Bridge, having to ride below the garish display of the rotting heads of the king’s executed enemies. She is entering a dark world, a labyrinth of conspiracies and undercurrents, and very soon Kate’s entire universe will be severely rocked as she uncovers secrets about herself – and about the court. Even worse, it does not take Kate long to understand that her beloved aunt is far from happy. In fact, Queen Anne is distraught, living her days on a knife-edge of fear and hope – hope that she might yet give the king a son, fear of what he’ll do if she doesn’t.

While it is Anne Boleyn’s subsequent fall from grace that is the main theme of the book, this is really the story of how Kate grows from a truculent difficult child to a very young woman of integrity and courage – brave enough to confront the king, mature enough to see in him a confused and angry man who no longer knows who to trust.

In Kate, Ms. Dunn gives us a complex and credible character, one it is easy to love and care for, despite her initial despicable behaviour towards her mother and stepfather. Forced by circumstances to take on far more responsibility than she is ready for, Kate more than rises to the challenge, even in those moments when all she experiences is suffocating fear. The story is told in third person, consistently from Kate’s perspective, but here and there the author has inserted Kate’s own thoughts, taken from her secret journal, and these first-person passages add depth to Kate’s personality.

Had The Light in the Labyrinth only dealt with Queen Anne’s unhappy end, it would have made for quite the dreary read, no matter how much life Ms. Dunn blows into her cast of characters. Fortunately, she has added a sweet and innocent romance between Kate and her future husband Francis. All that teenager angst that goes in hand in hand with first love is excellently depicted – and quite, quite timeless, causing this reader to smile in recognition.

Ms. Dunn has obviously expended a lot of effort on her research. It shines through every casual description of rooms and gardens, clothes and pastimes. A myriad of characters populate these pages, but Ms. Dunn does a good job of only properly introducing the truly important, while the rest blend into the colourful background of scheming courtiers and invisible servants. Even more important – and especially in a book aimed at a young adult audience – all this information is expertly woven into the fabric of the tale, thereby avoiding any heavy-handed “info-dumps”.

All in all, The Light in the Labyrinth is quite the read – no matter the age of the reader. And yes, thanks to Kate, a new voice has been added to the well-known haunting melody – a voice that mellows and matures as the story evolves and yet retains a touch of bittersweet innocence right to the bloody, inevitable end. It is with regret I close the covers on Kate’s story, and I can but doff my cap and applaud Ms. Dunn for a work most well done!

About the author 
Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian author quite obsessed with all things Tudor, as evidenced by her previous novel Dear Heart, How Like You This, which is about Sir Thomas Wyatt, a close confidante to Anne Boleyn. Recently, she has uncovered facts that give an indirect explanation to her fascination with the Wyatt and Boleyn families – it seems Ms. Dunn’s ancestors had business dealings with these two families and may well have known both Anne and Thomas. Somewhat creepy, but quite intriguing…

Ms. Dunn can be found on her website, and The Light of the Labyrinth is available both on Amazon and Amazon UK.

Anna Belfrage is the author of six published books, all part of The Graham Saga. Set in the 17th century, the books tell the story of Matthew Graham and his time-travelling wife, Alex Lind. Anna can be found on AmazonTwitterFacebook and her websiteIf you would like Anna to review your book, please see our submissions tab above.


  1. Quite clearly a book to have at the TOP of your TBR list.

    Wendy has the supreme talent of being able to draw the reader into another time, and another world.

  2. You've just made my day, Louise! THANK YOU!