REVIEW: The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa GregoryThe Other Boleyn Girl (2003) by Philippa Gregory tells the tale of two sisters and their rivalry for the love of the King. One sister uses beauty to land into the king’s bed while the other sister uses her ambition and virtue to become the Queen of England. Of course all of this would have been no more of a footnote in history if Katherine of Aragon could have bore Henry a son. However, Gregory tells quite a story about the Tudor court. The lies, the scheming, the treachery mixed with a wallop of gossip, sex and scandal makes for some good reading!

King Henry VIII, King of England and Ireland, believes that his throne is unstable without an heir. He desperately needs a son and his wife of twenty years, Katherine of Aragon, is now barren. The Boleyn and Howard family play on the King’s discontent with his wife and immediately begin their plotting and scheming against their political rivals, the Seymour’s, to play the King for favor in the further advancement of the family title, lands and wealth. Most of the Howard family ambition and ruthless political scheming is led by the Earl Marshal, Thomas Howard, the third Duke of Norfolk. I do mean this man was relentless in his political scheming and purportedly had spies all over the country so it wasn’t very much that he missed. Also, he gave Henry two wives from the Howard family tree.

The Boleyn girls,  Anne and Mary, are sisters who while not close, they are devoted to each other and to the political advancement of the Howard family. It’s amazing how they put aside personal differences when there was a crisis in the family. Educated in the French court, the girls enjoyed the benefits from being a Howard and enjoying favor from the King. Their relationship is one that is hard to adequately describe for me. They are portrayed as being loyal to each other but secretly they are enemies slash rivals. Each have different aspirations and goals. Mary prefers to be a simple farmer’s wife (her second marriage banishes her from court) while her sister Anne plotted to be Queen of England and give Henry a son (but bore him a daughter instead, Elizabeth Tudor). Mary is portrayed as someone who often did as she was told and somewhat slow on uptake when it came to politics while her sister Anne was smart and relentless in seeking further advancement of the Howard family.

Court life seen through Mary’s eyes seemed quite seedy and treacherous. She had to work hard to keep one man amused and her family appeased. Being the first pawn to the King’s bed, her family enjoys the fruits of her labor that is until she has borne the King two children and his favor for her wanes shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, Anne Boleyn steps in to catch the King’s attention while her sister Mary is recovering from childbirth. It doesn’t take long for Henry to fall for another Boleyn girl and shortly after that the Boleyn family start pushing their political allies to help them remove Katherine and install Anne as Queen of England. However, Katherine of Aragon will not be so easily banished. Her refusal to give Henry a divorce forces Henry to break from the Church. His citing that his marriage was “invalid” and cursed by God falls on deaf ears in Rome and gets him excommunicated.

The plotting and pacing of this novel was well done.  There were many scenes that I bookmarked. I personally enjoyed the Howard plotting and political machinations for which there were quite a few scenes (bookmarked). Despite all the treachery and back stabbing, I sighed with relief that Mary found true love with William Stafford thereby escaping the fate of her brother and sister. While Anne was arrogant and often drunk with her own power, she was devoted to the family ambition. She was also hard to tolerate because at times I wanted to strangle her myself. Like most readers, I was surprised that Anne was able to keep the King’s interest as long as she did despite her many flashes of temper.

Those familiar with the story of Anne Boleyn will find Ms. Gregory’s novel of “what if” quite interesting if your interests lie in reading about the British monarchy. I’m no historian but it’s interesting to me that Gregory chooses to make certain claims that are either not supported or disproved by her peers. It is her right to spin her tale of “what if” any way she wants to as this story was an engaging read. I found that the novel which is told in first person quite limiting at times like when Mary was banished at Court or at Hever with her children when the real meat of the story was at court. Anyway, I was thoroughly engaged in the story and found myself close to the characters. Knowing the outcome, I dreaded what was to come.

I’ve finally read a Philippa Gregory novel and looking forward to reading more from her, too. Like many other readers, I consider myself a fan. The author certainly knows how to keep readers turning the pages full of scandal and treachery. The Other Bolyen Girl is a fast moving read so don’t let the page count scare you off.  I rather enjoyed all the political suspense and maneuverings that leads up to the dreaded outcome.  My grade, B+. Note: The book has been adapted to film to be released Feb 2008.

[tags]The Other Boleyn Girl Review, Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory[/tags]

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8 Responses to REVIEW: The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

  1. Jennie says:

    I bought this book a couple years ago and it’s been languishing in the TBR — mostly because, as you say, it’s a tome! But my sister read it recently and said it was great and really readable. And you say the same thing… so maybe I’ll pull it out. I’d at least like to read it before I see the movie. 🙂

  2. Avid Reader says:

    Hi Jennie, if I didn’t have to work among other things, this book would have been finished in 3 days tops. Very readable, pages just fly by.

  3. Kristie(J) says:

    While it’s been many a year since I studied English history, at one time I was quite read up on it. I read books and books on all of his wives and on Elizabeth too. I was really keen on Mary Queen of Scots and read everything I could about her. It was always my opinion that she wasn’t the threat to Elizabeth that she was made out to be and as fascinating as I found Elizabeth, I thought she was wrong about Mary. Reading your review brought back so many memories of all the time I spent reading and enjoying the English monarchy!

  4. vanessa jaye says:

    I can’t remember if I have this in the tbr pile or not (haven’t unpacked all my books yet). But I did read either Meridon or Wideacre (or maybe it was Wise Woman. heh) by the author years ago, and enjoyed it very much. Great review, makes me want to dig through those boxes, but the page count has me hesitating. Don’t think I’m in the mood to tackle a big book at this point.

  5. Avid Reader says:

    Great review, makes me want to dig through those boxes, but the page count has me hesitating. Don’t think I’m in the mood to tackle a big book at this point.

    😦

  6. jenreads says:

    You simply must read “The Boleyn Inheritance”. It’s a worthy sequel to this fantastic book. It’s interesting to see the world view of Anne’s sister-in-law years after Anne’s beheading.

  7. Avid Reader says:

    Oh, I certainly will! I am like, having the hardest time finding something to read. I am just almost done with Ariana Franklin’s MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH.

  8. jenreads says:

    Another great historical mystery just came out in paperback, “Silent in the Grave” by Deanne Raybourn. It’s Walmart’s “Read of the Month” (I saw it on the cover) and it’s fantastic. One of the best books I read this year. It has a great heroine, a little romance and an interesting mystery. Well worth reading during the Holidays.

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