I have mentioned my thoughts on Philippa Gregory on more than one occasion. She grinds out drivel about the significant figures of the Tudor era with depressing regularity, reducing interesting and intriguing women of history to simpering nitwits. I’ve started a Just Say No policy about anything written by her because I have had a nasty habit of finding myself half way through one of her books (they’re not tricky to read) and being left with a feeling of self-disgust. But anyway, so I decided to try a new branch of Tudor fiction, hence I discovered The Boleyn King. The thing is – it wasn’t that great. But it also wasn’t pretending to be – this was just a fun slightly ridiculous read. So well done to Laura Andersen, she’s written something that is basically Tudors in the style of Gossip Girl. No breathy and pointed Gregoryesque moments of ‘look at me being historically accurate’ – Anderson just tells a frothy and mildly ludicrous story that was fairly entertaining.
Basic concept – the curtain opens in 1536 with Anne Boleyn in labour and in terror for her life, knowing that if the baby that she is carrying dies or turns out to be a girl, then Henry will indeed marry Jane Seymour and she herself will be doomed. It is probably the best written scene of the entire novel – Anne Boleyn remains as hard-bitten and difficult as she has been in any other portrayal but she is utterly petrified of what will happen next. The child is born, a healthy boy. It’s a really interesting idea – what if Anne Boleyn had not miscarried mere days after the death of Katherine of Aragon? What if that baby had gone to term? The Spanish ambassador at the time remarked that Anne had ‘miscarried her saviour’ – how would history have been different if she hadn’t?
To be totally honest, with such an interesting idea behind it, I think that this had the potential to be a great novel and it really isn’t. The central character ‘Minuette’ is a ‘Mary-Sue’ – something that I only ever heard about because when I was at sixth form college I had some friends who were interested in fan fiction. Anyway, Minuette is clever and pretty and tomboyish and adored by everyone and the boy Boleyn King and his sister Elizabeth treat her as a sister and in her spare time she fights crime and she cares not for propriety because the King always lets her do whatever she wants. You get the idea. Everything about her is ridiculous, even her name. If this was written about the Stuarts, fair enough but it just sounds like an author who hasn’t done their research. Similarly, the male leads, the boy king William and his ‘best mate’ Dominic. Even if I accept what the book says, that he is known as Henry IX in public but by this other name in private, William wasn’t one of the Tudor family names. The reason why Henry VIII’s real son was called Edward was because it helpfully harked back to Edward IV, reminding everyone that the Tudors weren’t completely new money. And Dominic? Really? Where does that one come from?
The central four; Minuette, Dominic, Elizabeth and William have been hanging out since childhood and are super tight and super there for each other and super informal. The Americanness of the writing becomes fairly obvious. The big thing though about all of the Tudors was their awareness of their position – they couldn’t relax around their inferiors, they hadn’t been around long enough. They were the conquering interlopers. They had to put on a show – having Minuette pirouetting about showing off that she had the King wrapped around her little finger wouldn’t a good way of doing this.
Anderson plots Henry VIII’s death as occuring in the same year as the main universe, making William ten at his accession. The political landscape remains the same … I thought it was a shame that Anderson did not explore this more, particularly in reference to Mary, Queen of Scots. Would the little Queen have been quite so sought after if she no longer had a likely claim to the English throne? Certainly England would have been interested, to unify the island, but would France still have bothered? I also found Elizabeth in her role as elder sister an interesting notion – without her early life traumas surrounding relationships, it would have been a good opportunity to explore how that changed her attitude to marriage. As it is, she seems much the same. Robert Dudley once reported that Elizabeth announced aged eight (eg. roughly around the time of Katherine Howard’s execution) that she would never marry, then she had the later horror of abuse at Thomas Seymour’s hands. With such a different path, the unchallenged Princess of England, how might Elizabeth have turned out?
|The Tudors – similar standard to this novel.|
My main disappointment though was that they had really missed a chance to explore Anne Boleyn – I can’t quite believe that Anne and Henry could have gotten to that point where their marriage was quite that sour and then have rebuilt it based on the birth of one child. Certainly, Henry would not have divorced and executed the mother of his heir, he wouldn’t want to prejudice their legitimacy, but would he and Anne have necessarily been much in each other’s company? The two of them had a passionate love affair but I find it hard to believe that they could have rekindled it after so much happened. Surely the certain knowledge that your husband will have you put to death if you produce a child of the wrong gender would kind of kill the romance … or am I just having one of my crazy feminist moments?
The central mystery to this novel was vaguely interesting and the twist was genuinely surprising … though the idea of Lord Rochford as the statesman seemed a bit unlikely though given that he basically landed himself in the manure by being loose-tongued to the wrong people. I also had a hard time believing that Norfolk would fall out with his family that badly – surely he would realise that his best chance lay with standing behind the throne? I will probably end up reading the sequel, most likely hissing at Minuette as I go. This book was a fun read that wasn’t trying to be anything too challenging. I think however that I enjoyed thinking about the implications of the concept more than I actually liked the writing.
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Published by Random House Publishing Group on May 14th 2013
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Sagas, Romance, General
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