Despite this being distorted history, I found myself engrossed in the characters. I know what happens to them, history is set in stone, but I still was anxious for it to turn out differently. It is a fascinating time and I loved following the political plotting that shifted constantly as well as reading up on the ideals of the time (especially about women and childbirth).
Although overly exaggerated and repetitive with an overdone flair for medieval misconduct, the book moves quickly until surprisingly just before the climax. One of the most infamous moments in history, when it should be tense with suspense, and Gregory steps back from firsthand scenes to a less descriptive overview. The intensity dies. For that I was disappointed. I think Gregory missed an opportunity to victimize Henry's mistreated wives, giving the novel more emotional charge.
While the story was interesting, I didn't buy its historical accuracy. Not even a little bit. It seems as if Gregory took a few historical events and invented a more exciting tale than one that was probable. Anne's misdeeds were George's invention as an excuse for divorce. I fully believe that. Gregory presents George's paranoia as probable. I think Gregory would have been better served to plant suspicion with a touchy-feely family and closed-door meetings and and a childish king doing his own scheming. I would have liked to see the charges as more ambiguous instead of being spoon-feed theories I don't believe. But I suppose history is open for interpretation. It's fiction not a biography and I have to read it on that level. It's just that Gregory mixed historical truths with enough inaccuracies and improbabilities that I found myself doubting her interpretation of all events and character.
With Anne although her viscousness was over the top, I did believe her ambition and scheming. I wish her character was explored more closely, characteristics like her intelligence and wit, but I still found her fascinating. I doubt Mary was was such an unintelligent pawn, but I like that Gregory wanted to focus her novel on her untold story. However, I thought she was just as naive in the opening chapter as the closing, her personality ran the gamut of discording emotions, and the book still focuses on Anne. Of all the Boleyns, I enjoyed George the most. I think Gregory appropriately captured his charm.
I also enjoyed Henry VIII's portrayal, whom I have always detested as an evil selfish man. Here you see his self-justified transition from spoiled boy to power-hungry tyrant and get a feel for his motives. It makes you think that nobody considers themselves malicious but wants to feel justified. A person I intensely dislike, I can if not sympathize with at least understand.
While I agree with reviews about flaws in character, plot, and history, I found myself engrossed in the story and anxious for the outcome and that is why I'm giving it four stars. If the aim of the book is to get one interested in history than Gregory did her job. I couldn't wait to do my own research about the time period. Despite the scandalous sex, I will be reading the sequels.