Review: Songbird by Karen Heenan

I'm delighted to share my review of Songbird by Karen Heenan today, a treat for lovers of the Tudor era. 

Songbird is currently on blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club. My thanks to the author and to Mary Anne Yarde for a copy of the novel.


The Tudor Court Book #1

Karen Heenan

Historical Fiction / Romantic Fiction

At not even ten years old, Bess is sold to King Henry VIII for her beautiful, clear voice. Like other children in the ’Music’, the royal company of minstrels, Bess is acquired like one would buy an instrument – an adornment to the king’s court. 

Once she is over the shock, she slowly settles in, but this is mostly due to help from a young lutist, Tom, who had joined the minstrels in a similar manner, the king having paid off his prostitute mother. He picks her up when she is unhappy or being bullied by other girls in the company. 

Travelling with the court of Henry VIII was fun and stress alike. Queen Katharine enjoys Bess’s voice too, and Bess is struck by the queen’s overwhelming sadness at her inability to give birth to a healthy son, and her husband’s affairs, particularly the longstanding fling with Mary Boleyn. 

Then Bess meets headstrong Anne Boleyn, and gets herself caught up in the young woman’s plots. This part was great fun to read. Mischievous Anne was portrayed in a way we can recognise, but it wasn’t clichéd. 

Songbird shows the intrigues at court, as well as amongst the musicians. The Tudor court at Greenwich – and on progress – is beautifully described, and Ms Heenan brings across a real sense of place and time. Her research is impeccable, and that really provides us with an in-depth view into life under Henry VIII. 

Tom falls for Bess as they grow up in an environment of practice and hard work, and she is aware of his feelings. But she regards him like a friend, a brother, and instead becomes infatuated by flamboyant courtier, Nick. 

In the end, Bess must decide where her heart really lies.

Amidst the drama of Bess’s  relationships and feelings, the intrigues at court keep us as readers highly entertained. The transition of King Henry’s affections from Queen Katharine to Anne is shown well, as is Wolsey’s power behind the scene. The secondary characters in charge of the children of the ’Music’ add a true sense of realism, as do Tom’s mother and Bess’s family. Ms Heenan clearly knows how to portray a lively Tudor court, and the undercurrents flowing through it, and she brought it vividly to life.

However, the pace was very slow at times, and Bess’s thoughts were repetitive, especially bouncing back and forth about Tom and Nick. I wanted to shake Bess so often, I've lost count. I didn’t warm to her character at all, sadly. During her teens, I found her silliness believable – who of us didn’t have a crush on a handsome stranger out of reach – but as she grew into womanhood, I’d have thought she’d lose it, but instead it took her years to realise what she really wanted. 

In that same context, I found Tom’s waiting game incomprehensible. Tom is such a wonderful character, so very likeable, I wanted him to be happy. I thought he deserved better than Bess. 

Songbird is a vivid, exciting novel showing the precarious lives of ordinary people at the court of Henry VIII. I would recommend it not only to fans of Tudor fiction, but to all readers who enjoy reading about intrigues and love in a beautiful historical setting.



She has the voice of an angel...

But one false note could send her back to her old life of poverty.

After her father sells her to Henry VIII, ten-year-old Bess builds a new life as a royal minstrel, and earns the nickname "the king's songbird." 

She comes of age in the dangerous Tudor court, where the stakes are always high, and where politics, heartbreak, and disease threaten everyone from the king to the lowliest musician.

Her world has only one constant: Tom, her first and dearest friend. But when Bess intrigues with Anne Boleyn and strains against the restrictions of life at court, will she discover that the biggest risk of all is listening to her own stubborn heart?

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Narrated by Jennifer Summerfield


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About the Author:

Karen Heenan

Karen Heenan was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. She fell in love with books and stories before she could read, and has wanted to write for nearly as long. After far too many years in a cubicle, she set herself free to follow her dreams—which include gardening, sewing, traveling and, of course, lots of writing.

She lives in Lansdowne, PA, not far from Philadelphia, with two cats and a very patient husband, and is always hard at work on her next book.

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