Friday, June 21, 2013

The Boleyn King by Laura Andersen

Title: TheBoleyn King
Author: Laura Andersen
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 358
How I Read It: ARC received from the publisher – The views expressed in my review are mine alone and I have received no compensation for these opinions.
My Rating: 3.5 Crowns

Synopsis: For Anne Boleyn, the world had narrowed in the last twenty hours to this: candle flame and darkness, stifling heat aggravated by leaded window glass and heavy draperies, bed linens that could not be kept clean, and the familiar pain of a child wanting out of her body.  And overriding it all, a terrible clutching panic...
*Synopsis taken from the back of the book

My Review: In The Boleyn King, Laura Andersen asks us to set aside what we know of history & go on a journey into an England where Anne Boleyn successfully gave birth to a son, kept her marriage (and her head), and is living into a ripe old age. It's a fantasy I have indulged in a time or two, being a big fan of Anne, so this story was right up my alley.

The very beginning of the story starts out while Anne is in her confinement, about to give birth to another child. Those who know Anne's story are aware that towards the end of her life, she gave birth to a boy who was premature & did not live. In this story, he is born in fact born as William, and is quite healthy when we meet him in the second chapter, at the age of 17. William is king, known as Henry IX under The Lord Protector, his uncle George Boleyn aka Lord Rochford. We pick up this story not just with William, but with his sister Elizabeth, her good friend Minuette, and Dominic, William’s oldest and most trusted friend.

We spend the majority of our story seeing things from Minuette's point of view, although it does switch a bit to both William and Dominic. I was curious to see that Elizabeth was in many of the scenes, but her perspective was not portrayed in the same way as the other characters. Things start out simply enough with our cast, but they soon discover a conspiracy that threatens the future of the kingdom by insinuating that William is not in fact the son of Henry VIII, but that Anne had an affair with her brother and William is the product of that. With the Catholics in the country all too eager to usurp the throne and put Mary in Williams place, it's a pretty dangerous situation to sort through.

Since Edward VI never reached his majority, we didn’t ever really get the chance to learn what his reign would have ultimately brought to England. Andersen does a fantastic job of guessing at what a son of Henry's would actually be like. William is not as impulsive as Henry seems to have been, but there are times throughout the story that you can see the Tudor in him coming out through the things he says or his reactions to specific scenarios. I also found it interesting that this story really picks up during what would have been Mary's reign, because it supposes that the healthy William outlives the lifetime of the actual Edward VI. As a lover of the “what if” scenario, I am really curious about the other changes that Andersen will write about.  Will Mary even come to the throne?  Or we avoid her bloody reign?

There are a few things I wish we would have touched on in this book, most notably a bit of the time that Anne and Henry had after the birth of their son. I'm also curious about the fate of some other historical characters who were executed during Henry's reign, like Thomas Cromwell and Katherine Howard. In theory, Cromwell should still have been alive, so I would have loved to see what happened to him in this timeline. And perhaps poor Kitty would have simply had a happy life as some lesser known member of the Howard family.

One of my favorite points about the book was that while these characters are in their late teens, this is not a YA book. I have nothing against YA, but despite their age, these characters are primarily treated as adults and that made me very happy. So many YA novels deal with situations that are rather adult in nature (I’m looking at you, Hunger Games) and I am a big proponent of the content as well as the age of the characters dictating the target audience. 

Obviously you have to suspend your disbelief with a lot of the book.  It was a little difficult for me to reconcile some of the book with actual history, I would find myself asking “what is so and so doing while all this is going on”, then realizing that because Henry’s reign went differently, those people quite possibly aren’t important in this timeline.  Essentially, when you read this, it’s a little like watching the Star Trek reboot – you know these people are mostly real, but what they do is going to vary from our expectations.  This book had a lot of elements I enjoy, and I'm excited to see what comes of the subsequent novels as well.

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