The Other Boleyn Girl is an enchanting, insidious read. I don't read many historical novels mostly because I find the characters a bit boring and jaded. This book is a romance but it doesn't revolve around just that. The one thing that caught my attention when I saw this book was that it follows the life of the Boleyn family, a powerful family during King Henry VIII's reign. I'm sure you all know the infamous Anne Boleyn, one of the most influential rulers the world has seen. But you may not know the other Boleyn girl--her sister, Mary. While Mary did exist, keep in mind that this book is fiction but I found it interesting that the narrator was a girl on the sidelines of history.
I had hoped that Philippa Gregory would deliver this story in a poignant, special way. After all, doesn't everybody love hearing the great tales of the Tudor period? I was not disappointed.
Gregory delivers The Other Boleyn Girl with a certain poise and charm that most historical novels lack. In this genre, it is easy to get lost in the maze of old-fashioned ways and curtsies and bows. Gregory speaks through our honest protagonist, Mary Boleyn, a girl who wants nothing more than to fall in love with a good man and live a pleasant life. But this is not the path carved out for her. The family she comes from is cutthroat and ambitious and Mary is soon sucked into the tangled web of scheming and politics.
When she catches King Henry's attention, she is ordered by her uncle to become his mistress and tend to his sexual needs. Poor Mary is used by her family to further their own interests and gain the king's favor. Mary is very young, only a girl of fourteen, who becomes understandably swept away by Henry's intense attention and the lavish gifts he gives her. Soon, she finds herself falling in love with him, causing her sly sister, Anne Boleyn to become extremely jealous. But as Mary becomes pregnant with the king's child, the king begins to desire Anne. After a year, Mary finds herself invisible and her shrewd sister in the center of attention. Anne overwhelms Henry who overturns every law to satisfy her. And when she demands the queen's throne, the king is so besotted with her that he gives it to her. But not even the beautiful Anne could keep in the king's favor for long.
This book is about 500 pages long but I finished it within five hours. Let's just say I was completely immersed in the dangers of the court. And when I came out of the Tudor era, I found myself realizing how corrupt court was. It was constantly emphasized throughout the book that no matter how bright, how spirited or how kind you were, you were never safe. The king's word was the law. King Henry had the power to kill you without evidence of your crime if you were annoying him. For Anne Boleyn, keeping the king's attention required to appear confident, kind and spirited not just to him but to everyone. It was so stressful that when she came home and dropped her guard, Mary remarked that she would whisper witty retorts under her breath in her sleep. Court required the courtiers to always be on guard and trust no one.
Mary was one hell of a character. She was this kind, rather honest girl in the beginning but court and her family's schemes hardened her. In the end, she came out stronger and tougher but she remained fair to others. In the flurry of constant deceit and lies, Mary remained virtuous. I really liked her.
I would like to say I hated Anne but that would be untrue. Anne was one of my favorite characters in the book. She was corrupt, horrible, mean and selfish. Any step she took was for herself and nobody else. Anne used people, especially the people closest to her heart like Mary and their brother, George. I despised her for her wicked ways but couldn't help but admire her for how high she reached. The girl was just a courtier of a wealthy family and five years later, she sat in the throne next to the king. It is true that she got there by scheming and seduction. But she had me impressed.
The twisted rivalry between Mary and Anne was also interesting to see. Especially for me because I'm an only child. :) Though it seemed like they despised each other, at the same time they wanted to see each other succeed. This book just shows that the bond between sisters can never be broken, no matter how cruel and fraudulent one sister becomes. Mary still thought of her sister and Anne did as well.
I really liked this book. I may have a new appreciation for court intrigue after this. So many things were going on that you had to take in. The rumors that flowed like currency in court, the dangerous moods of King Henry and the English people. I loved how Gregory didn't make it just a shallow romance but that she added as many facets of the Tudor court to this book. She makes sure to add depth to her characters' every decision, emphasizing how much the dangers of the court influences their choices. This book is all about secrets, cover ups and appearance. One day you may be the favorite of the king and the next your head may be rolling down the steps of the scaffold.
Dark, intricate and complicated, The Other Boleyn Girl is a book worth reading.
“I was born to be your rival,' Anne said simply. 'And you mine. We're sisters, aren't we?”
“We might, either of us, be Queen of England and yet we'll always be nothing to our family.”
She lives in the North of England with her family and in addition to interests that include riding, walking, skiing and gardening (an interest born from research into the Tradescant family for her novel Virgin Earth) she also runs a small charity building wells in school gardens in The Gambia.