Set against the turmoil, intrigue and, tragedy of Henry VIII's court, Portrait of an Unknown Woman vividly evokes sixteenth-century England on the verge of enormous change. As the Protestant Reformation sweeps across Europe to lap at England's shores, relations between her king and the Catholic Church begin to plummet-driven by Henry VIII's insatiable need for a male heir and the urgings of his cunning mistress Anne Boleyn-and heresy begins to take hold. As tensions rise, Henry VIII turns to his most trusted servant and defender of Catholic orthodoxy, Sir Thomas More to keep peace in England, but soon the entire More family find their own lives at risk.
At the center of Portrait of an Unknown Woman is Meg Gigg's, Sir Thomas More's twenty-three year old adopted daughter. Intelligent, headstrong, and tender-hearted, Meg has been schooled in the healing arts. And though she is devoted to her family, events conspire that will cause Meg to question everything she thought she knew-including the desires of her own heart. As the danger to More and his family increases, two men will vie for Meg's affections: John Clement, her former tutor and More's protégé who shares Meg's passion for medicine, but whose true identity will become unclear, and the great Holbein, who's artistic vision will forever alter her understanding of the world.
With a striking sense of period detail Portrait of an Unknown Woman is an unforgettable story of sin and religion, desire and deception. It is the story of a young woman on the brink of sensual awakening and of a country on the edge of mayhem.
Bennett's writing is a little overwrought at times, but this is at heart a love-story so a little overwriting is easy to forgive. However, her ability to conjure up the smells, sights and sounds of 16th century London is unbeatable. (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Entertainment Weekly - Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
Bennett has a rich imagination, but her writing is plodding at best and histrionic at worst. She writes of Meg experiencing ''hot, wet passion,'' but the reader, after one too many overwrought sentences, is more likely to feel slimed. C+
Boston Globe - Michèle Roberts
Bennett had a good idea for a historical novel: try to imagine what it was like to love a father you suspected of enjoying the torture of heretics. Try to imagine daily life in Anne Boleyn's London. Unfortunately, as the author nears her conclusion, her writing becomes increasingly sentimental.
Sunday Telegraph (London)
The historical detail is excellent and the story, featuring Sir Thomas More, Hans Holbein and other B-list Tudor celebrities, has enough twists to keep readers on their toes. The tang of daily Tudor life, with strangers lurking in dark alleys and the horrors of the plague never far away, is conveyed with skill and feeling.
She luminously shades in an ambiguous period with lavish strokes of humanity, unbridled passion and mystery.
An engrossing, quietly impassioned historical that blends some big ideas into the love story and ends with a touching burst of emotional insight.
[I]nterweaving historical fact and imaginative characterization, she creates a multidimensional work of fiction...Highly recommended.
[S]he also seeks through Meg's eyes to reconcile the paradox of More the humanist with More the religious conservative, ruthlessly defending the Faith. Here, as when John Clement passes comment on Tudor history worthy of a modern historian, the tread of a 21st-century sensibility intrudes on what is otherwise an enjoyable read.
The Observer (London)
As the novel unfolds, she [Meg Giggs] shrewdly chronicles the changing political and religious climate as it impacts on the More household and her own life. Holbein is brought ebulliently to life and the overall result is solid, uncomplicated historical fiction, puffed out with all the lavish details of costume and cuisine that its fans expect.
The Times (London)
This is several cuts above the usual history-lite - part love story, part thriller, all excellently imagined and written.
Daily Mail (London)
This blockbuster is nothing if not distinguished. Told in consistently well-upholstered prose, this is the perfect tale for autumn. Romance, intrigue and art history are confidently blended, and Holbein's canvases are afforded starring roles.
Iain Pears, author of An Instance of the Fingerpost
Rich in period detail, full of human passion, Portrait of an Unknown Woman mingles art, politics and family drama to evoke the period when humanism was taking root in England. A fascinating tale, skilfully told and highly recommended.
Vanora Bennett became a
journalist by accident; having
learned Russian and been hired
out of university by Reuters she
was catapulted into the
adrenaline charged realm of
conflict reporting. She has
reported from Paris, Cambodia,
Indonesia and Africa where she
commuted between Angola and
Mozambique writing about death,
destruction, diamonds and
disease; after which she took a
posting in Chechnya, three
months after it gained
independence from the Soviet
In 1998 she published
Crying Wolf: The Return of War to
Chechnya; a second, more
light-hearted book followed
about post-Soviet Russia's
illegal caviar trade titled
The Taste of Dreams: An
Obsession with Russia and Caviar
Masterfully blending true events with fiction, this blockbuster historical thriller delivers a page-turning murder mystery set on the sixteenth-century Oxford University campus.
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