In this sequel to The French Executioner (2014), Humphreys mixes old world with new as the saga of Anne Boleyn’s severed hand—and the power that’s attributed to it—inspires court intrigue, star-crossed love, and witchcraft.
When men with perfidy on their minds exhume the body of Henry VIII’s Protestant queen, Anne Boleyn, they’re surprised to find that her head wasn’t the only thing she lost when she died: she’s also missing one hand, and it’s not an ordinary one. Many believe the six-fingered hand has special powers, but for Renard the Fox, it represents an opportunity to control Princess Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne. Meanwhile, Jean Rombaud, the French executioner who took Anne’s head, then removed and buried her hand at her request, is in besieged Siena standing alongside his lifelong friends, a Norseman named Haakon and the German they call The Fugger; he knows the siege means the end of his life in Siena. Rombaud's son Gianni is a Catholic fanatic working for Renard, and he won’t let anything get in the way of his finding Anne’s hand and using it. In the series’ first book, Jean risked his life to ensure the dead queen's hand was safely buried, and he has no desire to embark on another quest. But when Gianni brings the quest to him, Jean knows that he will, once again, take up Anne’s cause and do what he can to honor the dead queen’s memory. Divided into two parts, set in Europe and the New World, the author’s ambitious undertaking is detailed and sometimes fascinating, but the rambling storyline often goes off the rails—especially when it crosses the Atlantic—with a cast fleshed out by an embarrassment of characters who appear for a scene or two and then vanish, leaving behind very little literary value in their wakes.
Overly long, too convoluted, and populated by fight scenes that prove tiresomely detailed, this novel progresses in a zigzag pattern that readers will find confusing.