Title: The Boleyn King
Author: Laura Andersen
Length: 358 pages
My star rating: ★ ½
Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I, bears a healthy son in 1536 and escapes execution. Seventeen years later, her son is King Henry IX. The main character, however, is his sister Elizabeth’s maid of honor and friend, Genevieve “Minuette” Wyatt, of whom he is enamored. Ostensibly, an unsolved murder lies at the heart of this alternative history tale. In reality, however, it revolves around the romantic woes of Minuette and the young but womanizing king and therefore utterly fails to live up to its potential.
On January 29, 1536, Anne Boleyn, Queen of England, miscarried a baby boy of approximately four months’ gestation. It was the beginning of the end for Henry VIII’s second queen, for Henry was forty-five years old and desperately needed a son. Although his passion for Anne had been both strong and enduring … the miscarriage was the final blow in an already wavering marriage.
The idea that Anne’s miscarriage in January 1536 was the “final blow” in her marriage is actually a common misconception according to Eric Ives. He argues that there’s very little, if any, evidence that Anne’s marriage was on rocky ground even as late as April of that year. The miscarriage was unfortunate, but it was not her “last chance.”
From Ives: “[…] Henry … continued determined efforts to persuade Europe to accept Anne as his legitimate wife. He had clearly not been poised to discard her should the pregnancy not end as he wanted. Anne, for her part, recovered her resilience, comforting her attendants with the assurance that she would conceive again, and that no one this time would be able to claim that her son was illegitimate. The miscarriage of 29 January was neither Anne’s last chance nor the point at which Jane Seymour replaced Anne in Henry’s priorities.“
But that’s just me nitpicking. Moving on…
What if Anne Boleyn had not miscarried? What if she had brought the pregnancy to term and delivered a healthy boy in the summer of 1536? What if Henry only ever had two wives and Anne’s son, not Jane Seymour’s, became King of England? And what if, in the end, Elizabeth still became queen?
a) Why would you put this at the end of your author’s note–at the very beginning of your book? Where’s the suspense? Why should I even care about Anne’s son if the author tells me from the outset that Elizabeth is still going to be queen?
Elizabeth I was a remarkable human being. So was her mother, whom she greatly resembled (in more ways than one). But there’s no reason that Anne’s son couldn’t have been equally great–he would have inherited the same genes, been taught by similar tutors with similar ideas, and in fact, would have had greater odds in his favor because his mother would likely not have been executed for treason when he was just a toddler and then never spoken of again, leaving him vulnerable and labeled as illegitimate, as happened to the real-life Elizabeth.
b) Why is Ms. Andersen even writing a book series to address this historical “what if” if she is neither creative nor daring enough to imagine an alternate universe in which Elizabeth Tudor did not become the queen of England? It’s fiction; there’s no reason why, if even a few things had been different, Elizabeth had to end up on the throne. The odds against her were pretty long, in fact.
Before I go on, full disclosure and fair warning: I only made it through three or four chapters (about a hundred pages), and my review is going to be more of a quote-by-quote reaction type thing than a full-blown review. The quick and dirty on The Boleyn King, though, is that it’s not particularly well-written (more on that later) and is an almost total waste of a great concept. Ms. Andersen does not seem to much care for Anne Boleyn, given the way she portrays her from the very first page. Rather than serious speculative historical fiction, she opted to write a cliched and boring love story featuring three uninspired OCs, one of whom is Anne’s frankly unimpressive son and another of whom is a pure Mary Sue.
It is a disheartening spectacle to say the least.
With that out of the way, I give you a taste of the stupidity that is The Boleyn King.
The book begins with Anne giving birth to her son on the 28th of June (otherwise known as Henry VIII’s birthday. Yeah, really).
Anne moaned with a mix of pain and fear–fear of the pale, blonde Jane Seymour, whom Henry had plucked out of Anne’s own household to make his mistress. There’s the black humor of fate, Anne thought. Doing to me what we did to Catherine.
“Not an hour ago, there was a rush of falling stars–one of the women told me. Do you know what that means?”
Anne didn’t have the energy for any reply, let alone the furious one she wanted to make.
So…Anne is just going to be a bitch, then? That’s original.
28 June 1553
What? You’re just going to skip Henry’s reaction, Anne with her baby son, his entire childhood, all of it…?
My full name is Genevieve Antoinette Wyatt. It was Elizabeth who first called me Minuette.
And yes, friends, this is the MC. Oh yes. (Quick, someone remind the author that it’s the 16th, not the 18th, century.)
Meanwhile, Anne’s son is called William even though, officially, he’s King Henry IX. Which means his real name is Henry, but they just call him William. For some reason. (Every baby boy born to Henry VIII was named either Henry or Edward–after his grandfather, Edward IV. Anne did have a relative named William–her paternal grandfather–but even so, this kind of discrepancy between coronation name and given name/nickname didn’t begin until the Victorian era!)
Elizabeth had heard her mother cut a lady to shreds with her tongue for an uneven hem or a slight stain, and she did not doubt that Anne would subject her own daughter to the same.
Just to set the record straight: Anne was temperamental, even irrational from time to time, but I doubt she would be petty enough to “cut a lady to shreds” over a stain. Add to this the facts that she adored her daughter and that the historical Elizabeth was every bit as fashion-conscious as Anne was.
And in case you think I’m throwing around “Mary Sue” lightly…
Elizabeth could remember her father visiting the schoolroom in the year before his death. .. Though he’d complimented Elizabeth’s mind, it was nine-year-old Minuette who had disarmed him. When the formidable, enormous King Henry had left, it had been Minuette whom he’d hugged goodbye.
She’s beautiful and smart and charming and everyone wubs her, including mean old King Henry. Awww!
Truthfully, Elizabeth would have been hard-pressed to name a single woman whom her mother considered a friend. She had always preferred men.
Oh, I don’t know…
Yeah, maybe her sister Mary? Or her sister-in-law Jane? Or Thomas Wyatt’s sister, Margaret, known to be her close friend? Or any of her ladies for that matter?
Anne then has this exchange with her daughter:
“She is still a trifle young–as are you, Elizabeth.”
“I will be twenty in September,” Elizabeth said mildly.
As if she hadn’t heard, her mother went on, “But your brother is determined to allow you an unusual measure of independence.”
What is even going on here? Nineteen wasn’t “old maid” status in Tudor England by any means, but Anne herself was a veteran of two sophisticated courts by that age! “Unusual measure of independence”? There’s no context for that claim. In this scene, Elizabeth, the king of England’s sister, is…
…being granted a new lady-in-waiting. Shocker!
Elizabeth met her mother’s eyes, biting back the impulse to argue. […] With a steadiness to match her mother’s, Elizabeth said, “I will act in all ways as you would.”
(If you can’t read that, it says, “She is like me in so many ways,” a quote from The Tudors spoken by Anne’s “ghost” about Elizabeth.)
Seriously, though. Elizabeth was very much her mother’s daughter. Many historians, Ives included, have noted how much of Elizabeth’s personality and behavior reflected her mother’s.
So is the above line supposed to ring false or be ironic or what…?
AFTER CHAPTER ONE
Anne’s son is seventeen, but for some reason he still has a regency council. Consider that part of Richard III’s motivation for seizing his nephew Edward’s throne less than a hundred years earlier was that Edward could, by a much younger age than eighteen, come into his majority and off his uncle (as had happened to Lord Protectors before). It just rings false to me, though William is quite whiny and immature, so maybe that explains it.
That brings me to this little gem:
What had set [his mother] off this time? he wondered as he strode into the presence chamber, where most of her women were safely out of reach of the crashes that could be heard through the inner door. A bow that was slow in coming, an expression that she interpreted as disdain, a letter that did not praise her as effusively as she’d hoped…William knew all about his mother’s vanity.
[…] She had one of the best minds in the kingdom, but despite a long precedent of dowager queens advising their young sons, Anne had not been allowed any official role in the regency.
Anne is not only a completely over-the-top bitch, then (and don’t get me wrong; as I mentioned above, Anne Boleyn had a temper–but throwing things at the wall because “a letter did not praise her [the way] she’d hoped”?! Twenty years on, as a middle-aged widow and mother in a far more secure position than she’d had following Elizabeth’s birth, I daresay she would have learned to behave in a more regal fashion than she did in her early thirties). No, not only that, but despite the influence she would almost certainly have had with Henry had she borne him a son, she’s been completely removed from government affairs even though they involve her son…as if she would have ever let that happen!
I might even understand this twist if Ms. Andersen had bothered to give some historical context (i.e., the influence of another controversial English-born queen, Elizabeth Woodville, over her young sons was another of the reasons that Richard III felt compelled to seize the throne). Even then, though, what accounts for the power of the rest of the Boleyn faction on the council? It’s not any more well thought-out than calling him “William” instead of just Harry or Hal.
Oh, and I guess I was wrong about Anne having friends, considering the way Andersen makes her talk about her sister-in-law:
Her sniff was supremely contemptuous. “Jane Parker only has a household at court because I permit it. One word to George and he would divorce her like that.” She snapped her fingers.
I…why, just why? (That sums up how I feel about this whole book.)
As I said before, Andersen’s prose does not do much to redeem her weak story and terrible characters, either. Here’s just one example I found when I went back and skimmed for this review was these quotes, both from page 48:
Then why did she scream? a little voice niggled [in Minuette’s mind]. (top of page)
[She] pretend that she had not watched Dominic nearly kill a man last night (for your sake, a little voice whispered). (middle of page)
In the space of half a page, a “little voice” speaks in Minuette’s head twice and the author can’t even find a way to change up the way she says as much. Like so much else in the book, this–and the rest of the writing–comes across as rather juvenile and unimpressive. I’ve read many a YA novel featuring more elegant and pleasing prose, and while I like YA as a “genre,” I have considerably higher expectations for the adult fiction I read.
I wish Laura Andersen had approached this wonderful premise with more in mind than an angsty, hackneyed love triangle between made-up characters–only one of whom has anything to do with that premise. I was excited to see Anne Boleyn, secure in her royal status at last, as the proud, triumphant mother of a prince and then of a king.
Unfortunately, Andersen’s Anne was little more than a shrill and very insecure caricature of the real woman. She scarcely appears better here than in the deliberately unflattering portraits painted by Philippa Gregory and Hilary Mantel in their Tudor-era novels.
Judging from the synopsis of the second, third, and fourth books in this series, it just gets worse from here. It’s enough to make me glad I only wasted my time on a hundred pages or so.