52 in 52: The Boleyn King, by Laura Andersen

[This review is based on the paperback edition published by Ballantine Books in 2013.]

Here begins a new series on my blog: the “52 in 52”, or Empty Shelf Challenge! Here’s my Empty Shelf, taken on January 1, 2014. As I post a new review each week, I will place a copy of the book (if in physical form) on the shelf and share an updated picture of the shelf as it fills up!

Here’s the deal:
The concept behind The Boleyn King is very simple, and it is summarized beautifully by a single question on the back cover of the book: “What if Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII the son he so desperately wanted?” The story delves into what might have been if Anne had had not one, but two children with Henry (because yes, even though this is a novel, Elizabeth still exists and is an elder sister to the fictional William). Elizabeth and William are half of a “Holy Quartet” rounded out by two additional fictional characters, William’s best friend Dominic Courtenay and Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting, Genevieve “Minuette” Wyatt. We follow them as they move through life at court and on the battlefield, through dealings with the woman who would in real life become known as “Bloody Mary”, and through the danger and treachery of solving a murder mystery.

My thoughts:
I’m a history buff, and the story of King Henry VIII and his six wives fascinates me. This story, therefore, was right up my alley; it’s rich in detail, from the way the characters carry themselves all the way down to the clothes they wear. One note of interest, however: while titled The Boleyn King, which would imply that William is the central character, it is actually Minuette who sits squarely at the center of the story. The narrative jumps between the four members of the Holy Quartet and, occasionally, other characters (as Anne Boleyn’s brother George is as important to this story as he was in real life), but it always comes back to Minuette. Normally I would hate that, but I found Minuette to be such a likable character that it didn’t bother me in the slightest. Besides, William is extremely important to the story as well — he is the king, after all!

There are two focuses in The Boleyn King:
1. The mysterious death of Minuette’s friend, pregnant lady-in-waiting Alyce de Clare, and
2. The love triangle that forms between Minuette, William, and Dominic.

Alyce’s murder and the subsequent search for the Penitent’s Confession (in which it is claimed that William was born as a result of incest between Anne and George Boleyn, thereby nullifying his claim to the throne, and allegedly signed by Minuette’s mother) hangs over all other subplots throughout the book. If any combination of the Holy Quartet is present in a scene, it’s practically inevitable that Alyce and/or the Confession will somehow become part of the conversation. I won’t give away what happens in regard to the Confession or to discoveries about Alyce…sorry!

The Holy Quartet have been friends from a very young age, so it’s not a surprise that romance might eventually bloom between a pair of them. It turns out that both Dominic and William have fallen in love with Minuette; though Minuette loves William as one of her nearest and dearest friends, it is Dominic who holds her heart. The problem is that William, as king, has signed a treaty with France that includes a political marriage to the French king Henri’s daughter Elisabeth — but William has no intention of marrying Elisabeth and has instead chosen Minuette for his wife. As difficult as it is to say no to royalty, Minuette finds herself doing that and instead carrying on a quiet courtship with Dominic. But how long will they be able to keep their secret? Only Laura Andersen could possibly tell you, because I won’t!

So would I recommend this book?
While the story is based in history, readers must remember that this is a novel. It’s very much a “what could have been” piece of fiction and doesn’t claim to be factual despite being set in a well-known historical period. As long as you can bear that in mind, I highly recommend this book. I couldn’t put it down!

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