Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Boleyn King by Laura Andersen

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: April 13, 2013

What if Anne did not miscarry her son in January 1536, but instead gave birth to a healthy royal boy? Henry IX, known as William, is a 17-year-old king struggling at the restraints of the regency and anxious to prove himself. With the French threatening battle and the Catholics plotting at home, Will trusts only three people: his older sister, Elizabeth; his best friend and loyal counselor, Dominic; and Minuette, a young orphan raised as a royal ward by Anne Boleyn. Against an undercurrent of secret documents, conflicting intelligence operations, and private murder, William fights a foreign war and domestic rebellion with equal resolve. But when he and Dominic both fall in love with Minuette, romantic obsession menaces a new generation of Tudors. Battlefields and council chambers, trials and executions, the blindness of first love and the betrayal of true friendship...How far will William go to get what he wants? Who will pay the price for a king's revenge? And what twists of fate will set Elizabeth on the path to her destiny as England's queen?

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Henry VIII and Anne Hunting
I admit, I had to gather my courage before diving into Laura Andersen's The Boleyn King. Devoted as I am to history, I find the concept of alternative fiction fascinating. In the right hands it presents a tantalizing opportunity for brilliance, but in the wrong hands, well, in the wrong hands the term epic disaster seems most appropriate. So where in this spectrum does Andersen fall huh? In all honesty somewhere between three and four stars, but I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt for creativity and the general respect she has for her fact based material. 

The book is told from several points of view, my favorite being Princess Elizabeth. Even I admit it is a bias opinion as unlike William, Dominic and Minuette, I already had a clear idea of who she was as a character if not how her life would play out in this alternative 1536. Possessing a certain fondness for the historic Elizabeth, I was relieved to find Andersen's characterization was still the fiercely independent woman of legend, even if the circumstances of Andersen's story left her chaffing under the rule of her mother, Anne Boleyn.

The author's nod to how different these women were and how their characters would have clashed is only the first of several historical tidbits Andersen slipped into the piece which is why I am shocked so few, and by few I mean none of the other reviews I read touched on the obvious research Anderson put into the piece. I mean no disrespect, but there is really so much more here than a fanciful jaunt into what might have been.

Andersen makes only one direct change to the history, allowing the son Anne historically delivered stillborn, to come into the world a healthy and thriving baby boy. It is a significant change, one that alters the entire course of Tudor history, but even in this alternate world, certain parallels exist. Thomas Seymour still has an unattractive affinity for young women, Jane Grey is still being thrust at the unmarried Tudor monarch by her power hungry relations, Mary still holds Anne accountable for her mother's downfall, George Boleyn remains angrily saddled with the sour Jane Parker and our young Elizabeth still bares a tender affection for the already wed Robert Dudley. Fanciful though her work is, Anderson went to great lengths to maintain some level of authenticity.  I did not expect this attention to detail in an alternative piece, but was pleasantly surprised to find it within these pages.

The Boleyn King is impressive, but I can't say it is entirely without flaw. For one thing, there are few if any sensory details to describe the settings. Perhaps Andersen felt her readers would already be familiar enough with these locals to picture them, but I must admit, my imaginings were often bare and nondescript. I also felt, particularly when our male leads interacted with the girls, that the story read more like a young adult piece than the adult historic fiction I tend to favor. 

All and in a surprising piece that more than exceeded my expectations. Maybe not as hard hitting a story as I wanted, but entertaining just the same. 

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"I am English before I am Catholic - and I am an opportunist before either."
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