It's been a while since my last book review, so I think I'll continue the tradition of Phillipa Gregory reviews, this time on The Boleyn Inheritance. If you didn't get a chance to read them, here are my reviews for The Other Boleyn Girl and The Constant Princess, also by Gregory. [Side note: the links on my previous posts to the Phillipa Gregory website no longer work, as she seems to have updated the site. Her website is now here]
The Boleyn Inheritance centers around two wives of King Henry VII, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, as well as one of the most famous ladies at the Tudor court, Jane Boleyn.
Here is the official description from Gregory's new website:
The Boleyn Inheritance
From the bestselling author of ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ comes a wonderfully atmospheric evocation of the court of Henry VIII, and the one woman who destroyed two of his queens. The year is 1539 and the court of Henry VIII is increasingly fearful at the moods of the ageing sick king. With only a baby in the cradle for an heir, Henry has to take another wife and the dangerous prize of the crown of England is won by Anne of Cleves.
She has her own good reasons for agreeing to marry a man old enough to be her father, in a country where to her both language and habits are foreign.
Although fascinated by the glamour of her new surroundings, she senses a trap closing around her. Katherine is confident that she can follow in the steps of her cousin Anne Boleyn to dazzle her way to the throne but her kinswoman Jane Boleyn, haunted by the past, knows that Anne’s path led to Tower Green and to an adulterer’s death.
The story of these three young women, trying to make their own way through the most volatile court in Europe at a time of religious upheaval and political uncertainty, is Philippa Gregory’s most compelling novel yet.
This novel is disturbing in many ways, and rightly so. Anne of Cleves is a young woman who speaks only German and is chosen by the king and his advisors to be the newest queen of England, following the death of Jane Seymour. The king dislikes her instantly, and the Duke of Norfolk conspires to push Katherine Howard, his 14-year-old niece, at Henry in the hopes that the Boleyn family will once again have one of its girls on the throne. Katherine is beautiful and charming, but despises the old, sickly, king, and doesn't understand the danger she is in until it is too late.
Jane Boleyn is the sick and twisted lady of the Tudor court whose testimony put Anne Boleyn and her brother George, Jane's husband, to death. She expertly schemes with the Duke of Norfolk to help Anne of Cleves, and just as easily pushes Katherine towards the king when the opportunity arises. It's made quite clear from the narration that she is not in her right mind.
The best thing about this novel, for me, is that Gregory writes it in first person, alternating among Anne, Jane, and Katherine. Their personalities are really strongly developed as the novel advances, and their differences emerge with great clarity. Gregory masters the art of getting into the heads of historical figures about whom we know very little. Katherine Howard and Anne of Cleves were, in fact, the wives of Henry VIII about whom historians have the least information.The novel is around 500 pages, and it took me perhaps four or five days to get through it. Considering I'm not the fastest reader, that's lightning speed for me. It reads very quickly and the descriptions of court are very vivid. Most poignant, as I said before, is the way we can see the thoughts turn in the minds of the characters and wonder the same things they're wondering. Even if you're a history buff and know all about what happened, you will probably still feel the suspense and tension experienced by the characters as they're lives are played out for them by those in higher positions.
The only problem I have with this novel, and I may have mentioned this in my other reviews, is that Gregory has a really annoying habit of inserting the title of her novel several times throughout. We get it. Anne of Cleves says that her fate is her "Boleyn inheritance." In case you forget the title 20 pages later, Jane Boleyn is here to remind you that current events must be her "Boleyn inheritance." Oh, and Katherine Howard? She mentions that she has a "Boleyn inheritance," too. It's fine once or twice, clever even, but since I've seen this pattern in each of the three Gregory novels I've read, and the titles are repeated around eight to ten times per novel, it's way too much.
Besides that one irritating authorial habit, I have to say that I enjoyed this book just as much as The Other Boleyn Girl. It was a much quicker read than The Constant Princess, which is probably to be expected, keeping in mind the time it took for Katherine of Aragon to oficially become princess.
This is probably marketed as a young adult book, but I think any historical fiction aficionado will love it. I'll definitely be picking up more of Gregory's novels in the future.
That wraps up the review, so I hope it helped you decide whether to read this book, or you at least didn't fall asleep reading this.
Let me know what books you're loving at the moment, or even what you think of this one!
Hope your weekend is going well!