Fine as a Tudor romance, but abysmal as speculative fiction/alternate history. Review to come.
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I’m sorry, I know reviewers should focus only on what’s in front of them, but I couldn’t read The Boleyn King without dwelling on the fact that it does not live up to its premise. The selling point of the book, the very title, is the rewriting of history to suppose that Anne Boleyn didn’t lose her head, but instead carried her son to term and changed the face of English history. Yet, here are some of my notes while reading:
So far it doesn't have teeth. Everything's basically the same, just with ‘William’ in place of Edward.
Really, we rewrote English history for a tepid murder mystery?
We're starting to experience some differences from real history, but I just can't get over how odd it is to focus on two fictional characters' romance instead.
Tepid. That’s a great word for what’s in store here. The author either believes that little would change in history or she’s afraid to dig in, resulting in world where England has a boy king and a powerful reagent, Elizabeth loves Robert Dudley, the Catholics rally around Mary Tudor, Mary Queen of Scots is betrothed to the Dauphin of France...except now love interests William and Dominic Courtenay, (I believe a completely fictional character, because I can find no mention of him in other histories,) lead a skirmish in France. How shocking.
I will say the most effective revision is Anne Boleyn herself, though the dowager queen is in very little of the story. I did feel like she was the same woman from England’s actual history, just older and wiser. I didn’t feel the same about George, who’s been reduced to ‘mysterious schemer”. It makes his interaction with his sister, late in the book, seem awkward and out of character. The rest of the “real” characters fall somewhere in the middle.
However, if we take The Boleyn King not as an alternate history, but a mystery/romance between a group of four teenagers in Tudor-style England-ish country, it becomes a perfectly fine historical fiction, though not without its own problems.
I found the romance to be an extremely standard love triangle between Minuette, the real main character, despite what the blurb would have you think, and William and Dominic. The “winner” of which is blatantly obvious from page 11 when the boys whip out their metaphorical dicks to see who gave her the best birthday gift, and it keeps right on being obvious for the next 300+ pages. More frustratingly, the resolution wasn’t satisfying and felt deceptive and gross on Minuette's part.
The overarching plot is the search for a document, The Penitent’s Confession, that states that William isn’t Henry’s son, but George’s, thus making him an incest-born bastard and Mary the rightful heir to the throne. This does jibe with real history and is a perfectly legitimate mystery for the Scooby gang to embark on. If only they hadn’t forgotten and ignored its existence for long periods. Still, the mystery does have an interesting wrinkle in the end, but by that point I was so checked out, I have no interest in continuing the series to find out if it’s resolved.