Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Book Review: The Boleyn King

The Boleyn King (Goodreads)
Ah, the Tudors.  Is there any more fertile ground for the imagination?

For all of us Tudor-addicts out there, Laura Anderson has created her debut novel about a "What if" scenario:

What if Anne Boleyn had managed to give Henry VIII the son he wanted?

Certainly this premise isn't too far of a stretch.  There probably isn't a Tudor fan out there who hasn't wondered the exact same thing.  Fortunately for us, Anderson actually applied butt-to-chair and pen-to-paper long enough to give us a full-length novel, the first in a proposed trilogy.

(Review might contain minor spoilers)

I'll confess that it didn't take me long to get hooked on the story, but it took me somewhat longer to relate to the characters.  It's immediately apparent who Elizabeth and William (apparently "Henry IX", according to the back of the book, though I don't think he's called that a single time in the narrative) are, but it took me longer to understand who Dominic and Minuette were, and their connections to the royals.  Certain characters aren't as prominent as you would expect, like Anne Boleyn herself.  At first, I was hopelessly adrift in this new Tudor world.  Henry VIII is dead, but many of his real-life victims were now alive.  By the simple yet momentous act of having a son, history was radically changed.  

Not only was the historical framework and scenario a bit confusing at first, but it took a while for the book's trajectory to really make itself apparent.  At first I thought it was going to be a whodunit with a potential murder at court, but then it seemed to be a find-the-conspiracy.  Just when I was convinced I 'got it', the conspiracy drifted away for a bit of Franco-English warfare.  Other historical figures like Mary Queen of Scots make their appearances - or at least mentioned.  Some well-known relationships still exist (like the Robert Dudley-Elizabeth flirtation), but other should-be familiar figures seem unimportant.  Throughout all the plot paths, all four of our protagonists are trying to find love.  By the end of the book, I was at least intrigued by all the storylines, even if I was more engaged by the find-the-conspiracy one.

Given the age of the characters (late teens and early to mid-twenties), it's not surprising that this book has a decidedly young adult flavor.  For the record: this isn't a flaw.  Some of the best-written books I've read in the past few years have been YA.  However, when you're accustomed to the ruthlessness and danger of Henry VIII's court, it's somewhat harder to get on board when the story focuses a great deal on a 17 year-old king's lovers, or if a fictional maiden will get the love she wants from the man she deserves.  Eventually, I was reluctantly shipping certain couples and hoping for a happy ending, but cold reptilian heart takes a great deal of convincing to truly care about most written romances.

I think the low point in my perception came when the four protagonists get together and decide to solve the conspiracy mystery.  Honestly, this is what I thought of:
Don't mind us.  Just going to solve a mystery...

So, if I was confused by the plot, the setup, and I didn't truly care about the sweetly blooming love stories, then I what did I like about it?

Honestly, this would have been a solid three-star book had it not been for the final chapter.  I assumed I knew exactly where the story was going and who the culprit was - wasn't it so obvious?
No it wasn't!
Anderson throws a curve ball or two in there so well I just did not see it coming.  It's not exactly a cliffhanger, but it altered my perceptions so much of what was really going on that I'm now desperate to see what happens.

All in all, round up to 4 out of 5 stars.  A decidedly solid debut once you get past the initial chapters, with a bang-up ending.

Looking forward the sequel.

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