Review: The Boleyn King by Laura Andersen

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I picked this book up by accident while browsing the public library shelves, as I often do.  For me, there are a few words that, if I spot in a novel’s title, will cause me to pounce.  Some of these are: Tudor, Queen, Tower, Henry VIII…you get the idea.  This time, the word ‘Boleyn’ caught my attention.  I am a huge fan of historical fiction, especially those books loosely based on the War of the Roses, House Tudor, or Elizabethan England.  Though after skimming the back blurb of the novel, I was apprehensive on two accounts:

1)  This book was written by an American author.  Typically most historical fiction about the English monarchs I read are written by Phillippa Gregory, Alison Weir, Hilary Mantel or other British author.  That’s not to say an author born and bred outside of England cannot write about the history of England.  I just didn’t expect it.

2)  I almost re-shelved the book upon learning it is not quite historical fiction, but ‘what-if’ historical fiction.  I had never come across one of its kind before, and perhaps they are few and far between.  The events that transpire in this novel are entirely based on the false premise that Anne Boleyn never miscarried Henry VIII’s son (William, in this book).  I thought to myself, how ludicrous!  How absurd to suggest an erroneous historical fact.  How can one presume to rewrite history?  But hey, it isn’t history — it’s historical fiction.  So I checked the book out, and I’m glad I did.

This story (though so far from fact that it is nearly all fiction and no history) had me so enraptured I couldn’t put it down.  The characters are engaging, the plot and multiple subplots enticing, and Laura Andersen’s writing flows in a simple style lacking pretentiousness.  Historical fiction benefits from a direct, to-the-point writing style rather than ornate, flowery prose.  Andersen has succeeded in mastering this.

Synopsis

As I mentioned, this books is based on the premise that Anne Boleyn’s son survived.  This event saved her marriage — and her life.  The novel begins 17 years after the birth of William, the crown prince of England, while Anne acts as queen regent.  Good ol’ Henry VIII is long dead and Anne is older now — old actually, for those times.  The story however is note so much about Anne but four younger individuals and close friends:  William, his older sister Elizabeth, William’s friend Dominic Courtenay, and Elizabeth’s ward Minuette.  Minuette does stand out as a more central character, and the plots revolve around her the most.  The third person narration switches between these four characters to allow readers to see their thoughts, motives, and true feelings towards each other.

At the opening, William is a year away from being crowned King of England.  He becomes more and more aware of the burden of the position, including pressure to marry, the threat of war with France, and dealing with the Catholic Mary and her supporters — some of who may be within William’s own council.  Minuette meanwhile has attracted the attention of not just Dominic but his best friend William.  Yet Will is no longer just Dominic’s friend and Minuette’s playmate but the soon to be King of England — and very much in need of a queen.  Can Minuette defy him once he is crowned ruler of England?  Where does her loyalty life?  And what of Elizabeth and her beloved Robert Dudley?  Scandals, romance, and murder ensues.

Conclusion

Hypothetical situation or not, this story kept me interested.  I will be reading the sequel The Boleyn Deceit when it comes out this fall 2013.  If you enjoy historical fiction or if you are obsessed with the scandals of the Tudor Court, I highly suggest checking out this book.

Download it on Amazon today!

4 Literature-Inspired Trips

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about reading, writing, and traveling and how these three passions of mine are linked.

Sometime last year, I decided I wanted to spend a significant amount of time for the rest of my life writing.  This awareness coincided with the understanding that most (if not all) of the destinations I choose to visit while traveling are influenced by something I’ve read.

The fact is, certain books (whether fiction or non) influence me and my cognitive process to a great magnitude.  So great in fact that what I read inadvertently predicts where I travel.  This was not a terrible realization by any means; I’ve visited a great many cities because of my curiosity to see and experience either a) where the author wrote a book and how their surroundings inspired them or  b) a landmark or location where much of the story takes place.

Here are 4 literature-inspired trips I’ve taken so far:

Oxford

Eagle & Child

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tolkien

This is the old pub where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis among other literary geniuses called ‘The Inklings’ met and discussed their writing.  A special room called ‘The Rabbit Room’ has a shrine dedicated to Tolkien and Lewis who were among the most famous writers to spend their after-teaching hours drinking a pint in this historical pub.  Heck, if I lived in Oxford I would write here in the hopes of feeding off the creative energy. Inspiration: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings.

Oxford Botanical Gardens

oxford tree

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You’ve probably noticed I am a huge Tolkien nerd.  If not, take a look at this photograph of me sitting underneath Tolkien’s favorite tree in Oxford. He used to grade his student’s papers here, and it’s in this very spot that he thought of the first line of The Hobbit: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

Oxford University

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I’m sure an array of books and films have been inspired by Oxford’s ancient and mystifying campus.  The dining halls were certainly used in filming some of the Potter films.

London

Ebenezer Scrooge House
 door knocker

I spent this past Christmas in London; it was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.  On Christmas Day along with a staggering amount of European tourists, my mother, sister and I went on the Charles Dickens Christmas Carol walking tour.  I was fascinated as the overly informative tour guide pointed out all of the locations where Dickens grew up and some of his inspirations.  One of these spots was the door knocker which supposedly inspired the scene in A Christmas Carol where Jacob Marley’s head comes to life and frightens the living daylights out of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Peter Pan Statue

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J.M. Barrie’s famous children’s book was one of my favorites growing up.  The same weekend I visited Oxford back in college, I made a point to stop in Hyde Park first to catch a glimpse.  Inspiration: Peter Pan.

Tower of London
exeution

During my Oxford weekend excursion I took the Tube to the Tower of London, only to realize I didn’t have enough time to go inside before my bus departed.  I endured the crowds this past Christmas if only to visit the execution site of Lady Jane Grey and Anne Boleyn, among many others.  Inspiration:  Innocent Traitor by Alison Weird and The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory.

Edinburgh

The Elephant House

elephant house

rowlings view 2

Name look familiar?

Name look familiar?

This is the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling wrote much of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  There’s plenty of Harry Poter memorabilia inside, as well as a view of Edinburgh Castle (an inspiration for Hogwarts) and a graveyard.  In Scotland, graveyards are way cooler than in the states.  Rowling must have strolled through this particular graveyard more than once; she borrowed many of the character’s names in Harry Potter from these very gravestones.

Rome

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Two years ago, I spent Thanksgiving in Rome.  It was an enchanting city, and I was only sorry I hadn’t visited back when I was studying abroad in Amsterdam.  I’ve always had an interest in the history of the Roman Empire when Rome was at its most powerful.  After reading Rome by Robert Hughes, I knew I had to go and see the ruins for myself.

A few book-inspired trips I’d like to make in the future:

  • Alexandria, Egypt.  I’m a bit obsessed with Cleopatra and have read several of her biographies.
  • Savannah Georgia.  Ever since I read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, I’ve wanted to visit the Mercer House.
  • Chatsworth.  This is one of the many stately English castles I want to tour.  It’s also where Mary Queen of Scots was held captive by Bess of Hardwick and the Earl of Shrewsbury.  Fun fact:  Chatsworth is Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley estate in the A&E version of Pride & Prejudice.
  • Brontë Parsonage Museum.  Former of the Brontë sisters in West Yorkshire and where most of their literary masterpieces were written.
  • Jane Austen’s House Museum.  Also known as Chawton Cottage, this is where Jane Austen spent the last 8 years of her life writing Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion.