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.
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.
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.
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