Laura Anderson’s The Boleyn King piqued my interest when Michele from A Reader’s Respite called it the “Tudors for the teenage set”, and said it was “a fun romp” (Disclaimer: I am totally paraphrasing/making up what she said from a Twitter conversation. Really, I don’t remember what she said.) This also falls under the category of alternate universe/ historical re-imagining, and I just love those, so yeah. I wolfed this down pretty quickly. If Anne Bolyen had given birth to a son in 1536, ya’ll! Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I have signed on for yet another trilogy. Le sigh.
Anyway. The Boleyn King follows the lives of the Boleyn king, William; his sister, the Princess Elizabeth; and their best friends Dominic (also one of Will’s advisers) and Minuette (also Elizabeth’s head lady-in-waiting). The action begins on the eve on William’s birthday (also Minuette’s birthday); Dominic has just returned from soldiering, and Minuette has just re-joined Elizabeth’s household after Queen Anne’s separating her from her friends for a few years to toughen her up in other households. William has only a year left before he rules England in his own right, without the approval or veto power of his regent and council.
When Alyce, one of the Queen Anne’s ladies-in-waiting, takes a header down some stairs, Minuette has reason to believe that foul play is the culprit since she also suspected that Alyce was pregnant. As the quad work together to solve the mystery, they quickly realize that Alyce’s mysterious death has everything to do with English royal succession, and William’s official ascension to the throne as England’s King.
Anderson does a fine job of speculating the issues that still would have faced England had a son of Anne’s lived and became England’s king. Anderson knows her history and puts it to good use, which makes this book a delight to read. Anne’s giving birth to a son would have saved her neck and solved the immediate issue of Henry having a male heir, but to a considerable part of the country Anne was still “The Great Whore”. The shenanigans that made her Queen also divided England into bitter religious factions, and would have made that no less a problem for fictional William than it was for real life Elizabeth – what with Mary still running around as a potential Catholic Queen. This bears out in The Boleyn King, and the more things change, the more they stay the same. Elizabeth is still smart as a whip, studious, interested in foreign policy and Robert Dudley. Much is still being made of who she might marry, and of course who William might marry. It’s very interesting to see people continue to be themselves in entirely different circumstances.
Anderson skips to William’s adulthood, so we don’t get to see what Anne would have been like as a she gloried in her power and the triumph of a male child, or the role she takes in William’s rule after Henry’s death. There are some hints that she was not allowed free reign, but intimations of who she is and how she relates to Elizabeth give an idea of who this volatile woman might have been as a mother, and what regrets she had, if any. Anne’s relationship with Minuette, and how that bears on the younger girl’s future is something I loved seeing develop, as her role in Dominic and William’s life begins to change. Everyone is growing to consider the others in a different light. The Boleyn King is a really lovely alternate history, mystery, romance. I’m very much looking forward to the next installment. Recommended.