PurplyCookie's Reviews > The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
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Apr 24, 09

bookshelves: historical-fiction, romance-novel, royalty
Read in July, 2008

Before King Henry VIII ever considered making Anne Boleyn his wife, her older sister, Mary, was his mistress. Gregory's novel opens and closes with two executions -- it begins with the execution of the Duke of Buckingham in 1521, and ends with the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536.

With this rather grim events framing her book, the novel proper starts in 1522, with Anne arrival at the Tudor court, where her elder sister, Mary, is already lady-in-waiting to Henry's wife, Queen Katherine. From the very beginning we see that while there is a bond that ties the Boleyn sisters together, there is also a deep rooted rivalry between them.

Historical novelist Gregory uses the perspective of this "other Boleyn girl" to reveal the rivalries and intrigues swirling through England. It is a tense time at court: the queen (already quite a few years older than her husband) has yet to produce a male heir to the throne, and people are beginning to question if the aging queen will ever be able to bear children again.

"She (Queen Katherine) looked at me as if for a moment she would seek someone who would understand the dreadful predicament of a woman, in this world ruled by men."

"...Katherine of Aragon was speaking out for the women of the country, for the good wives who should not be put aside just because their husbands had taken a fancy to another, for the women who walked the hard road between kitchen, bedroom, church and childbirth. For the women who deserved more than their husband's whim."

In the midst of all this intrigue, Mary soon catches the king's roving eye. Although she is married and still quite loyal to the queen, her family (her ruthless parents as well as her uncle, the powerful and equally ruthless Duke of Howard) decrees that she put her marriage and loyalties aside and cater to the whims of her king.

The sisters and their brother George were raised with one goal: to advance the Howard family's interests, especially against the Seymours. "We never look back. We have no time for regrets or second thoughts. If a plan goes awry we make another, if one weapon breaks in our hands we find a second. If the steps fall down before us we overleap them and go up."

Bedazzled, it doesn't take Mary very long to fall in love with both her golden king and her role as the his 'unofficial' wife.

A few years and two royal by-blows later however, Mary is shunted aside when the king begins to lose interest in their relationship and her ambitious family fearful that they will lose all the power that they have gained, throws the more ruthless and seductive sister, Anne at the king's head.

From then on Mary--her eyes finally wide open as to how low her family will stoop in order to gain power--watches from the sidelines as her family, led by Anne, begins their high stakes play for the queen's crown.

Anne to Mary, "You can smile when your heart is breaking because you are a woman, and a courtier, and a Howard. That's three reasons for being the most deceitful creature on God's earth."

Finally realizing that she can only depend on herself for her own future, Mary is inspired to take a few risks herself in order to gain some measure of happiness and security.

Mary abandons court life to live with a new husband and her children in the countryside, but love and duty bring her back to Anne time and again.

We share Mary's helplessness as Anne loses favor, and everyone abandons her amid accusations of adultery, incest, and witchcraft. Even the Boleyn parents won't intervene for their children.

Gregory captures not only the dalliances of court but the panorama of political and religious clashes throughout Europe. The authour's characterization of Mary Boleyn was probably the best thing in the novel. Here we see a young and intelligent woman with a heart and a sense of morality that is constantly at war with her feeling of familial obligations. How Mary struggles with this dueling feelings and the decisions she makes -- sometimes good, sometimes bad -- is what makes this novel worth reading.


Book Details:

Title The Other Boleyn Girl
Author Philippa Gregory
Reviewed By Purplycookie
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