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Blood Of The Rose by Kate Pearce (2011)

October 20, 2014

Since Mystic Events is proving to be even heavier going than I thought, I decided to take a break with Book 2 of The Tudor Vampire Chronicles, which is exactly what you’d expect from its title: short on history, long on sex, fluffy as a cloud and – very importantly for my purposes – it can be finished in two hours and if not everything makes sense, who cares? You’re reading about a Welsh Druidess who’s staking vampires in Henry VIII’s court; the reader’s choice in this situation is between shutting the book and invoking the MST3K mantra and enjoying it.

“Sitting with Anne Boleyn’s ladies was difficult when there were so many Vampires in such close proximity.”

Rosalind Llewellyn, a Druid ally who defeated some sort of vampire conspiracy in Book 1, managed in the process to become engaged to her arch-enemy, Christopher Ellis, who has vampire blood and is also part of the Mithraic cult, who are historic enemies of the Druids. In the best pulpy-romance tradition, they can’t stand each other and bicker all the time, except that since their engagement has been endorsed by Henry VIII himself, getting it undone will take some complicated maneuvering. Henry VIII, incidentally, is aware of the vampires at court and that Rosalind is a vampire hunter whose mission is to protect him; every now and then she gives him updates on what she’s up to, but she can’t tell him the most important thing she’s learned, which is that his new beloved, Anne Boleyn, is in fact a vampire herself who plans to turn the king into a vampire once she’s married him, and put him in the hands of the Vampire Council, whom we never actually see but who we’re assured are a serious threat to the stability of the nation. She gives out that she’s a Lutheran, but that’s just a cover story – she really just needs a semi-respectable cover story for why she wants to avoid crosses and Hosts.

Christopher Ellis, who knew Anne when he was younger, manages to get into her confidence by dropping a few hints about his Mithraic cult membership, and finally discovers that yes, she’s a vampire – three hundred years old, in fact, and her beloved “brother” George is not in fact a brother but someone she turned into a vampire just a few years ago. Rosalind already had this figured out, since apparently female vampires smell like flowers (Anne’s scent is honeysuckle) and male vampires smell like animals (George is a fox), but it’s still nice to get official confirmation. Naturally she can’t tell the besotted Henry VIII the truth, so she and Christopher enter into a string of complicated schemes to somehow strip Anne Boleyn of her power without being too obvious about it – as she notes in an ironic moment, it would hardly be thinkable to simply behead Anne and her “brother” in front of the entire court. While this is going on, she and Christopher realize that although they hate each other, they’re also bound forever by their oath and by a prophecy (made in the first book) and their blood calls out to each other, or something, and the end result is that they end up sneaking into each other’s rooms on a regular basis and before we know it, Rosalind has become pregnant. (She briefly suspects Anne of poisoning her, then realizes that her symptoms are actually consistent with something else).

Anyway, after conferring with the Druid council and convincing them that she and Christopher both truly want to foil the evil Anne Boleyn even though historically his family has supported the vampire cause, the Druids offer a solution: they will offer Anne a fertility charm, along with a potion that she’ll drink every day to hasten conception. Since female vampires have a very difficult time getting pregnant normally, this will be very valuable to her. (As a bonus, the vervain in the potion will weaken her vampiric powers). If Anne takes the deal, in return she’ll have to promise to keep the king a mortal and not to hand power to the Vampire Council. And … she takes it, sensible vampiric social climber that she is.

No, of course that’s not the end of the book. There are several more fights during which Rosalind manages to stake and behead various anonymous vampires, Anne Boleyn tries to get Rosalind assassinated, and in addition Anne tells Christopher that not only is Rosalind pregnant (true) but that she’s already given birth and had the baby spirited off to Wales to be the centerpiece in a Druid human sacrifice (not true). Christopher, trusting Anne’s word completely for some reason, gets into a huge, confusing fight with Rosalind about this during which he of course never directly states what it is he’s heard about her, so of course she thinks he’s talking about something else, and it ends with him tying her up and dragging her off to be forcibly married to him for …. some reason. Anyway, after the lovely ceremony they finally straighten things out vis-a-vis the baby, and when Christopher says that Anne Boleyn should die for the way she’s treated Rosalind, one of the Druid elders prophesies that Anne will break her bargain with the Druids and die as a result, so not to worry about her holding the throne too much longer. And that’s it. We don’t get to actually see her doing it, it seems – the preview chapter for the next book shows that we’ve skipped ahead a few years to Jane Seymour’s time as queen consort. She isn’t a vampire, but they’re threatening her, and Rosalind and Christopher have been called back to court in order to defend her. What they do then, I can’t say, because I’ve had my fill of vampires for now.

SEX OR POLITICS? It’s a vampire bodice-ripper. Aside from a very few obligatory references to then-current politics (Christopher and his family take Catherine of Aragon’s side in the initial separation, but nobody ever mentions Cardinal Wolsey’s name, for example) there’s virtually no political context to distract us from Rosalind and Christopher’s extreme compatibility when in bed together and extreme incompatibility whenever they’re outside of it.

WHEN BORN? Unclear – the real historical uncertainty about Anne’s birthdate is explained as a byproduct of awkward cover stories for her vampirism. “I have been a Vampire for the last three hundred years or so,” Anne tells Christopher. “That is why there isn’t an accurate record of my birth into the Boleyn family. We manufactured something, of course, but I understand the dates were rather muddled.”

THE EARLY LOVE None notable. Rosalind herself appears to have a mild crush on Rhys Williams, but since they’re fated not to be together due to a prophecy, it never goes anywhere. Anne isn’t really in love with anything except power, though she feeds on a vampire courtier named Elias Warner, which is a sign of a close inter-vampire relationship. She describes George as a “toy” but seems to like having him around. Henry Percy isn’t mentioned at all; in fact, Anne is said to have returned to the English court from France only about six months before the story opens in 1530.

THE QUEEN’S BEES Rosalind herself is a maid of honour to Anne, but other than that we don’t see too much of that demographic, not even Jane Seymour, since the action ends too early for that. It’s too bad, since Rosalind smells quite a few vampires in Anne’s chambers and thinks that the Boleyns attract them like flies are attracted to honey. It would have been entertaining to find out if, say, Margery Horsman was secretly one of the undead.

THE FAITHFUL SERVITOR Christopher has a servingman named Roper, which just so happens to have been the surname of Thomas More’s son-in-law (the one who later wrote his biography, as well as inadvertently letting posterity know just how much Roper himself couldn’t stand Alice More). Whether this is intentional or not, I don’t know. This Roper isn’t related to anyone famous, though – he says at one point that he has no family living, which would rule out his being that Roper.

THE PROPHECY A prophecy from the previous book is referenced, “The kiss of the rose is death to kin, and three will stand alone. The bonds of blood will reunite and enemies become one.” Most of it has been fulfilled before this book (something about killing a rogue Vampire, along with Rosalind and Christopher getting engaged) but in fairness the former enemies Rosalind and Christopher do become one on numerous occasions in this book.

As for prophecies exclusive to this book: there’s an element of prophecy in the bargain Rosalind strikes with Anne: in exchange for not turning the king or letting the Vampire Council take over, she’ll give Anne Druid magic which will guarantee that she gets pregnant with a baby which will grow up to rule England; note that the sex of the baby is not mentioned. And the Druid Elder, Lady Alys, makes one at the end of the book which essentially wraps up everything that will happen over the next five years and which the book isn’t going to cover. When Rosalind says that Anne Boleyn doesn’t deserve to live after what she did to Christopher, Alys assures her that “Anne Boleyn will not sit on the throne for long. In five of your years, she will no longer exist … When she fails to give the king the son he desires, she becomes desperate enough to break her bargain with us, and so brings about her own downfall … The fertility spell will work, but Anne will bear only one living child to the king, a girl who will be named Elizabeth.”

Rosalind objects that a woman can’t rule England, but is told that this state of affairs won’t last long, and before her death Elizabeth will have had a long and glorious reign, without her mother’s influence. “Her mother and George Boleyn will be executed for adultery, incest, and high treason. Between us and the Vampire Council, who will also be out for vengeance on Anne, we will make sure the king has all this information at hand.”

IT’S A GIRL! We don’t get as far as Elizabeth’s birth, but it’s safe to guess that Anne at least was extremely displeased by it, since like Rosalind she clearly assumed that the Druid fertility draught was meant to produce sons.

DO YOU HAVE SIX FINGERS ON YOUR RIGHT HAND? Not mentioned, oddly enough – you’d think that an Anne who can produce fangs and red eyes on demand would qualify for a sixth finger, but I guess the line had to be drawn somewhere.

FAMILY AFFAIRS The only family of hers we hear about – aside from a glancing reference to Mary Boleyn having been with Anne in France – is George, who’s supposedly her brother, but since she’s actually three hundred years old and he’s the formerly-normal son of Thomas Boleyn, whom Anne turned at some point prior to the book’s opening, they’re not really closely related and may not be related at all. (It’s not clear if Anne is a distant Boleyn relation from the thirteenth century or if she wormed her way into the family some other way). So even though this George is Anne’s lover, it’s not close enough for it to actually be incest. It’s hard to see what the attraction is, since George is an arrogant twit who spends most of his free time forcing people to suck up to him. His wife is briefly mentioned, and we’re told that they don’t get along, although whether she knows that George is a vampire is unclear. Frustratingly, we don’t get to find out what Mary Boleyn – or the senior Boleyns, for that matter – make of all this, since we never hear about them at all. Too bad, I was looking forward to finding out whether any of them were turned and just how much Thomas Boleyn knew about his “daughter’s” activities. Something, presumably, since he did give her a cover story so that she could pass as his daughter.

DID SHE OR DIDN’T SHE? Yes, with George at least – whether she was involved with any of the others isn’t clear, since the only one we see is Henry Norris and he never comes into the foreground long enough for us to figure out whether he has any supernatural alliances and/or is mesmerized by Anne.

WRITERS OF THE PURPLE PAGE The dialogue is always very to the point. “By the time Anne has enslaved the king and the Vampires are in control of the land, no one will dare question us,” George Boleyn tells Rosalind at one point (and later, in a line unfortunately redolent of Game Of Thrones, he’ll say “You know nothing, Vampire slayer!”) The effect is often more amusing than anything else, but then the book wasn’t meant to be serious.

ERRATA It’s hardly fair to do this. I will say that Anne’s return from France comes far too late; she’s supposed to have returned and met the king in mid-1529, by which time the real Henry VIII was already trying to move heaven and earth to get an annulment.

WORTH A READ? I don’t usually read vampire pulp, but the thing that disappointed me most about the book was that there wasn’t enough of it. I don’t mean I wanted more Druid/Mithraic sex scenes, but that I really enjoyed the way the Anne Boleyn canon was played with and wished there had been more of it. The confusion over her birthdate, her explanation for her Lutheran tendencies, even the fact that she smelled like honeysuckle and was given a fertility charm of an acorn, were all very entertaining winks in a lighthearted piece of pulp. (If you’re wondering, the honeysuckle and acorn were adopted by Henry VIII and Anne as symbols of themselves – a prayerbook or curtain with those two things depicted on its cover, or embroideries with those motifs, were likely to be theirs). That made it all the more frustrating when the story just wrapped up before she and Henry had even married, with only a hurried prophecy to fill us in on how later on she’d betray the Druids and die as a result. I wanted to see how that would be fit in with the reality of Anne’s downfall and arrest. No such luck. It was a clever idea, though.

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