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Laura Andersen – The Boleyn King

September 4, 2013

LibraryThing Early Reviewers64. The Boleyn King by Laura Andersen (2013)
Anne Boleyn Trilogy, Book 1

Length: 342 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 09 August 2013
Finished: 14 August 2013

Where did it come from? LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.
Why do I have it? I like historical fiction, and after watching The Tudors, I was feeling ready to lift my moratorium on Tudor-dynasty historical fiction.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 25 April 2013.

If Anne Boleyn had
had a son, how would the course
of England have changed?

Summary: What if Anne Boleyn’s second child hadn’t miscarried, but instead been born a healthy heir to Henry VIII’s throne? In The Boleyn King, William Tudor, son of Henry, is now 17, ruling under a regency council headed by his uncle, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. He is the product of both his parents, eager to prove himself as a king in his own right, and cognizant of the political schemes of all his advisors. But he does have those that he trusts – his older sister Elizabeth, his best friend Dominic Courtenay, and Minuette, born on the same day as William to one of Anne’s ladies, and raised in her household. The four friends have been together their whole lives, although as they grow, that friendship has begun to shift. But they are all going to need each other when the are faced with a daunting political challenge: resentment against William’s mother still festers, particularly among the English Catholics, and there is rumor that a sworn confession exists that labels William as a bastard – and thus not the true King – and that it may have fallen into the hands of Princess Mary, the focal point for a possible rebellion.

Review: For a while (kind of a long while, actually), I was kind of burnt out on the Tudor dynasty. I read several books on the subject in too close succession, before deciding that I just didn’t care for Henry VIII. So I stayed away from any Tudor-court-based historical fiction for a long time (burning myself out on the War of the Roses in the process, but that’s another matter.) But years passed, and I was feeling the need for costume drama, and the next season of Game of Thrones wasn’t going to start for a while, so I dove into The Tudors on Netflix. And it turns out I was no longer quite as burnt out as I thought I was. So, the point of all of that was that I was able to approach The Boleyn King with interest, and with a recent refresher course on the actual history. (Or at least the broad strokes of the actual history, as interpolated between the TV show and my furious mid-viewing Wikipedia-ing to figure out what the TV show got wrong.)

And on the whole, I really enjoyed this book. Andersen does a lot of things right, specifically things that kept me interested and involved and not stepping on my I’m-fed-up-with-the-Tudors triggers. To start with, this is not historical fiction, it’s alternate historical fiction, which gives Andersen more leeway to have a book set in the Tudor court and still tell a new and original story. Similarly, I think setting the story squarely amongst the next generation was a smart move, so that readers get some new characters, but there’s still the draw of seeing how the shadows of the familiar personages (Henry and Anne in particular) color the lives and the court of their children. I also think that it was a good idea to split the narration, but to keep it primarily focused on the two very personable fictional characters, Minuette and Dominic, for the sake of storytelling. And the story that Andersen’s telling is a good one, with a nice balance of political intrigue and interpersonal drama and a compelling (if somewhat predictable) will-they-won’t-they romance. (Predictable because the answer is basically always “they will”, but Andersen does throw in some interesting wrinkles.)

However, this book gets one major demerit from me, and that demerit is at least partially my responsibility, but: I didn’t realize that this book was part of a series when I started it. In fact, I didn’t realize that this book wasn’t stand-alone until about ten pages from the end, where we got to the point where everything could have been wrapped up, and then it suddenly wasn’t. To be fair, Andersen does do a good job at giving this book a complete story, and portions of the plot do wrap up satisfactorily – but not all of the plot does, and so I went with being very happy with the book to completely frustrated by it in a very short space. But again, that’s mostly my fault. And the next book is coming out soon, so I suppose I shouldn’t whine too much.

My other issues with this book are relatively minor, and similarly my own fault. Even with four seasons of the TV show under my belt, I still have a hard time keeping track of who’s related to who, especially when half the time they are called by name and half the time by their title, so I could have definitely used a dramatis personae or a set of family trees. I’m also always fond of author’s notes that explain which parts of their story are true and which are invention, and this book’s note could have been substantially enlarged. Still, I enjoyed the story, loved the characters, thought the prose was smooth and easy, and will probably be reading the sequel (which I didn’t know existed until the end. Hrmph.) 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Recommended for fans of historical fiction, particularly about the British royalty, who like asking some big “what if” questions about the course of history.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Devourer of Books, Fashion Piranha, Tales of a Book Addict
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: 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.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 15: ““Did not King Henry give you the right of femme sole over the objections of his council?”” – legal term for a single woman, whether spinster, widow, divorcee, or a woman whose marriage has been annulled or is otherwise independent of her husband, as by owning her own property.
    .
  • p. 200: ““You are Marquis of Exeter, and you bear no mark of cadency. Nor will your son, when one day flies those colours.”” – the line of descent from a younger member of a family.
    .
  • p. 201: “The gold escutcheon, quartered and bearing the red torteaux of the Courtenays and the azure lions that sprang from his grandmother’s royal blood, surrounded by an earl’s coronet and a rising dolphin.” – A roundel of a red color.
    .

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 4, 2013 7:48 pm

    I am so glad you reviewed this book. I have eyed it. We’ve both been in the same place. It’s only been just recently that H8 books have started to call to me again. I think that Hilary Mantel has something to do with that, but distance and the War of the Roses has made the Tudor era appealing again. I am adding this to my TBR. I’ve not read alternative history before and I’d love to spend time imagining what might have happened had Anne Boleyn kept her head. :)

    • September 4, 2013 8:29 pm

      LitHouse – I missed out on the Hilary Mantel fervor since I was still in the throes of my Tudor-burnout when the first one was released, and despite how much everyone loved it, I just couldn’t bring myself to commit to that much Henry VIII. But maybe, slowly, now that I’m coming out of it, I might be persuaded to try?

      I don’t read a ton of alternate history – or the ones that I do read usually have some fantasy/magic element added. But this one is fun, light, and pretty easygoing, so if you’re familiar with the real history you should have no problem adapting to the slightly changed version. I hope you like it!

  2. September 4, 2013 8:01 pm

    I’m not in a fight with Tudor books, and this does look good, but argh. Why does everything have to be part of a series? If I read the full series of every book-in-a-series I read, it would take foreeeeever. A good one-and-done novel is a perfectly fine thing to write (I would sometimes like to remind authors).

    • September 4, 2013 8:31 pm

      Jenny – Argh I know! This book would have needed maybe another 25 pages to wrap up the one big storyline that’s left dangling, and it could have stood alone perfectly well. And I still would have read the “next” book if she had wanted to write more than one book set in this alternate timeline. But now I definitely have to. And while it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the rest of the book, it did leave things on a pretty frustrating note.

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