Philippa Gregory is notoriously known for her in-depth historical novels, many of which are set during the Tudor period.
The Other Boleyn Girl is the first I have read of hers, which has also been adapted into a film twice.
Whilst Anne Boleyn is the more commonly known wife and ‘Boleyn’ girl, this focuses on her sister Mary’s perspective and the untold (suspected) story of her love affair with King Henry VIII.
Despite historical suspicions, the story is convincing: I was surprised to learn how young Mary Boleyn was when she was introduced to the King as a ploy of keeping him captivated by the Boleyn clan, where she is then used as his lover. Inevitably, she births his two (illegitimate) children, despite being married.
I was a little bored as Mary seemed sensible and feeble, especially when Anne is drawn more into the picture who is the complete opposite: a plotting, savage minx! It’s good being good, but it’s a lot more fun having some bad somewhere…
Anne Boleyn has always been an interesting wife and historical figure to me, especially as she is portrayed as promiscuous and a bad influence on Henry – maybe she really was back in the day. However, the sourness between the sisters deepens as they are pitted against each other as Anne becomes jealous of Mary being Henry’s lover.
The tension builds.
As many know, Anne’s petulant behaviour is compelling to the King, who she soon wraps around her finger. This is where it got interesting.
Whilst things seemed to be on the up for Mary, it soon crashes as her husband dies and Anne soars to become the next Queen of England as the King seeks a divorce from Katherine of Aragon – a defining moment in history for the Church.
Anne – and the Boleyns – control Henry: that is obvious.
The topic of lust and sex ensues as Anne teases Henry before they are wed. Her desire for power becomes great.
But maybe too great. The marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn is the beginning of the end as she becomes more delirious in her desire for power, which we know is soon lost when she gives birth to a girl, Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth I of England) and suffers miscarriages thereafter, going to desperate lengths, with the suggestion that she sought the help of her brother George…
I struggled with the first half of the novel, as I mentioned Mary was a bit of a safe, boring character. However, Gregory continues to grab you with a drip of information that can be the difference between life and death.
The novel ends as quickly as the inevitable demise of the Boleyn’s hold on the King, yet the finishes with a satisfying, if not ghastly end.
rating – 4/5
genre – romance, historical fiction, biographical fiction