Title: The Boleyn King
Author: Laura Andersen
Release Date: May 14, 2013
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
History knows the story of Anne Boleyn very well, the story of the woman who supposedly set her sights on the throne of England, prompting the breaking away of England from the Catholic Church so King Henry VIII could procure a divorce, gave birth to Elizabeth I, one of the most famous monarchs in the country’s history, and in the end, was put to death because she could not give King Henry VIII the son he so desperately wanted.
But what if she had?
The premise of The Boleyn King by Laura Andersen is fascinating: Suppose that Anne Boleyn had indeed given King Henry VIII his promised son, and as a result, she’d been spared from the axe and continued to reign as queen. What if that son, named William in this novel, was able to succeed his father upon Henry VIII’s death? And, what if, after all that, Elizabeth still became queen? The thought is enough to excite any fan of English history, the Tudors, or historical fiction in general.
The Boleyn King is the first of a trilogy, and it introduces William, son of Anne and Henry. He’s seventeen years old now, and is chafing under the restrictions of the Lord Protector, George Boleyn, his uncle. Soon, he’ll be able to reign in his own right. But William must face other difficulties: the continued slander against and hate of his mother, his half-sister Mary’s continued quiet refusal to acknowledge his mother, and difficult situations with foreign governments. Andersen conceives of her character well; he’s absolutely believable, and it’s easy to forget he didn’t actually exist within history. While he’s clamoring to be seen as an adult, it’s clear that he’s still very much a teenager, unsure of himself at times and preoccupied with matters of the heart, much as his father was.
Andersen takes great liberties with history in The Boleyn King, and it’s absolutely fascinating to see. She basically erases everything up to and including Anne’s death; there is no rise of the Seymours, no downfall of Thomas Cromwell, no Katharine Howard. People who were put to death later in Henry’s reign are still alive and well in this novel; it’s interesting to see how they fare. If you aren’t as familiar with English history, you’ll still find this novel interesting, but if you are? Well, let’s just say you’ll have fun with what Andersen does.
Minuette is a fictional character (as far as I can tell) introduced in The Boleyn King, a young woman who was raised with William and Elizabeth. She provides much of the narrative voice of the novel, and she’s an appealing character. She’s smart and resourceful, and she’s also very much a teenager. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if this novel was marketed as a crossover between the YA and adult fiction markets; while enjoyable, it doesn’t delve into history quite as much as one would like and it has the general, lighter feel of a YA novel.
Still, The Boleyn King is a quick, absorbing read that any fan of historical fiction should definitely consider. Playing “what if” is always a fun game, made even moreso by the fact that the reader knows what is going to happen from the outset. It’s interesting to see how Andersen changes history, and yet makes it seem the same, weaving pieces of actual history into the narrative. It’s a creative read that will delight fans of court intrigue.