Sisterly rivalry is the basis of this fresh, wonderfully vivid retelling of the story of Anne Boleyn. Anne, her sister Mary and their brother George are all brought to the king's court at a young age, as players in their uncle's plans to advance the family's fortunes. Mary, the sweet, blond sister, wins King Henry VIII's favor when she is barely 14 and already married to one of his courtiers. Their affair lasts several years, and she gives Henry a daughter and a son. But her dark, clever, scheming sister, Anne, insinuates herself into Henry's graces, styling herself as his adviser and confidant. Soon she displaces Mary as his lover and begins her machinations to rid him of his wife, Katherine of Aragon. This is only the beginning of the intrigue that Gregory so handily chronicles, capturing beautifully the mingled hate and nearly incestuous love Anne, Mary and George ("kin and enemies all at once") feel for each other and the toll their family's ambition takes on them. Mary, the story's narrator, is the most sympathetic of the siblings, but even she is twisted by the demands of power and status; charming George, an able plotter, finally brings disaster on his own head by falling in love with a male courtier. Anne, most tormented of all, is ruthless in her drive to become queen, and then to give Henry a male heir. Rather than settling for a picturesque rendering of court life, Gregory conveys its claustrophobic, all-consuming nature with consummate skill. In the end, Anne's famous, tragic end is offset by Mary's happier fate, but the self-defeating folly of the quest for power lingers longest in the reader's mind.
Before Henry VIII ever considered making Anne Boleyn his wife, her older sister, Mary, was his mistress. Historical novelist Gregory (Virgin Earth) uses the perspective of this "other Boleyn girl" to reveal the rivalries and intrigues swirling through England. The sisters and their brother George were raised with one goal: to advance the Howard family's interests, especially against the Seymours. So when Mary catches the king's fancy, her family orders her to abandon the husband they had chosen. She bears Henry two children, including a son, but Anne's desire to be queen drives her with ruthless intensity, alienating family and foes. As Henry grows more desperate for a legitimate son and Anne strives to replace Catherine as queen, the social fabric weakens. 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. She controls a complicated narrative and dozens of characters without faltering, in a novel sure to please public library fans of historical fiction. —Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ.
Historically based, page-turning story of Mary Boleyn, sister of the infamous Anne, decapitated by Henry VIII: here, as much a tale of love and lust as it is a saga about an ambitious family who used their kin as negotiable assets. Rich with period detail, the story is told by Mary, the younger sister, who is married off at 13 to William Carey, a courtier at Henry's court. Mary serves Queen Katherine, mother of the future Queen Mary, and begins her tale when her sister Anne, stylish and beautiful, returns from France to join Mary at court. The sisters' ambitious parents and their uncle, the future Duke of Norfolk, are determined to acquire power and influence, as well as titles and estates, from the king, even if it means that Mary must become his mistress. Their son George is made to work on his sisters' behalf and to live a life not of his choosing (he's homosexual and loves a fellow courtier). Mary bears the king a son, but Anne soon after uses all her wiles to make Henry divorce the Queen and marry her. The Boleyns, more ruthlessly functional than dysfunctional, continue to plot and push to achieve their ends. Mary recounts the king's wish for a male heir; his break with the Pope; Anne's skillful if criminal plotting that leads to the divorce and her marriage to Henry; the birth of the future Queen Elizabeth; and Anne's desperate attempts to bear a son. Meanwhile, she herself, widowed after her first husband dies from the plague, finds love with Sir William Stafford—the only strand of the story with possibilities for future happiness. Absorbing tale of a Renaissance family determined to climb as high as they can, whatever the cost.
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