Anne didn’t have the energy for any reply, let alone the furious one she wanted to make.
The midwife smiled brilliantly. “It is a sign, Your Majesty. A sign of God’s good pleasure on you and all England. He has given us a prince. A Prince of Wales to follow in his great father’s footsteps.”‘
Whilst I’m a huge fan of historical fiction I’ve never actually read an alternate history before, so I’ve been looking forward to reading Laura Andersen’s The Boleyn King for quite a while.
In this reimagining of the Tudor dynasty, Anne Boleyn did produce a male heir for Henry VIII – Henry IX, known as William – who at seventeen is anxious to prove himself as powerful and commanding a king as his father. Alongside his older sister Elizabeth, his best friend Dominic Courtenay and his mother’s ward Minuette Wyatt, he must navigate the many secrets and intrigues of the Tudor court as his country is threatened by the French and his right to rule questioned by the Catholic rebels. All this whilst trying to reconcile the complicated affairs of the heart…
To be honest, the theme of this review is pretty much going to be ‘I liked this, but didn’t love it’. Everything from the characters to the plot was good, but not amazing, so it’s fair to say that whilst I enjoyed this book, I wasn’t blown away by it.
Minuette, for example, is a likeable enough main character: she is kind, lively and passionate, and you find yourself really rooting for her as you read. However, at the same time she suffered from that annoying female character trope of thinking she’s quite ordinary and plain whilst everyone else is wowed by her beauty and kindness, which quickly got quite irritating. Not to mention her indecisiveness in regards to her male suitors – not including the truly vile Giles Howard, there ends up being three men vying for her attention, and at different times it seems like she will settle on a different one. In the end I couldn’t quite make out her feelings towards any of them!
William and Dominic were also perfectly likeable characters, but in a lot of way they were very typical heroes – strong and chivalrous, extremely protective of the women in their lives, and eager to prove themselves on the battlefield. William makes a strong, decisive King, even at seventeen, which in some ways seems a little unrealistic. In fact I kept forgetting how young the main characters are meant to be, thanks to their complicated love lives and the power they wield over people who are considerably older than them.
One character I did really like was Elizabeth Tudor (who would have been Elizabeth I). Calm and capable, she seems like she would make a good ruler in her own right, and I have a sneaking suspicion that in the later books of this trilogy she will actually end up as Queen anyway. The book asks what would have been different had Anne Boleyn had a surviving son, and potentially I think it could have worked out the same in the end. But I shall have to read the later books to find out!
As for the plot, it seemed a little up and down to me, and to be honest, I kept forgetting important plot points. At the start there is a kind of murder mystery set up, but this soon falls on the back burner in favour of the four main characters trying to find a document called the Penitant’s Confession, which alleges that William is not actually the son Henry VIII (so basically, it makes all the claims that actually got Anne Boleyn beheaded in real life). At the same time there is various wars and battles happening, and various betrothals are made and broken and mistresses taken…there just seemed to be a lot happening, yet not much happening at the same time if that makes any sense.
Overall, this book was definitely worth reading though, and I probably will go on to read The Boleyn Deceit and The Boleyn Reckoning at some point to see how things turn out in Laura Andersen’s alternate Tudor history. However, I wasn’t quite as wowed by it as I wanted to be, and the characters weren’t quite as engaging as I hoped. I would still recommend this book to fans of Tudor historical fiction though, because it does ask some interesting questions about what could have been.