The Boleyn King is the first novel in an enthralling new trilogy. Reimagining history in sumptuous detail, Laura Anderssen takes readers back to the deadly intrigue, turbulent affairs, and treacherous passions of Tudor England – and answers the compelling question What if Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII the son he so desperately wanted?
Just seventeen years old, Henry IX, known as William, is a king bound by the restraints of the regency yet anxious to prove himself. With the French threatening battle and the Catholics sowing the seeds of rebellion at home, William trusts only three people: his older sister Elizabeth; his best friend and loyal counselor, Dominic; and Minuette, a young orphan raised as a royal ward by William’s mother, Anne Boleyn.
Against a tide of secrets, betrayal, and murder, William finds himself fighting for the very soul of his kingdom. Then, when he and Dominic both fall in love with Minuette, romantic obsession looms over a new generation of Tudors. One among them will pay the price for a king’s desire, as a shocking twist of fate changes England’s fortunes forever.
I admit, I’m not usually prone to picking up historical fiction set in the Tudor period. I’ve nothing against it, and in fact I find it to be a fascinating period of history, I just prefer to read books set in other time-periods.
The Boleyn King, however was an exception because I liked the idea of a “what if” story based around the idea of what might have happened had Anne Boleyn given Henry VIII a son; one who was healthy and strong unlike the son borne to him by Jane Seymour who was sickly from infancy.
As this is the first book in a trilogy, it spends time setting up the dynamics between the central characters, set against a tumultuous historical background. William (soon to be Henry XI) is not yet of age, so England is still under the protectorate of his uncle, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. Rochford is a wily fox; he has eyes and ears everywhere and there is very little – if anything – that happens at court of which he is unaware. But for the most part, he has guided William well and laid the foundations for the young man to enter his reign proper on a good footing.
That said, there are still many conflicts – both internal and external – to be resolved. William’s half-sister, Mary, is still the focus for the kingdom’s disenchanted Catholics, some of whom are members of very influential families. There is the possibility of war with France and with the Holy Roman Empire (whose ruler is Mary’s nephew); so William approaches his majority facing the prospect of war both at home and abroad.
William is quickly shown to be possessed of a quick mind and lively intelligence. He’s an attractive character – courageous and loyal with a good sense of humour – although there was the odd hint here and there that he is very much his father’s son, which I thought the author conveyed with great subtlety.
Even though William is surrounded by courtiers and advisors, there are only three people in the world he trusts completely; his older sister Elizabeth, his best friend and loyal councillor, Dominic Courtenay; and Genevieve (Minuette) Wyatt, the daughter of one of Anne Boleyn’s ladies in waiting who was born on the same day as William and who has been raised as a royal ward.
The relationship between the four friends was well-established and the three fictional characters very well drawn. Lively, witty and clever, Minuette is the peace-maker among the four, while Dominic is the steady hand, quiet and thoughtful, a man who will tell William the truth when others will not and to whom the others turn for advice.
Elizabeth, of course, is the only one of the four who actually existed, and I thought that to start with, she was less well-drawn than the fictional characters. But then I began to realise that she has been made deliberately enigmatic and as the story progresses, we start to see the emergence of some of the characteristics that will make her a great queen some years in the future. (The author has already stated that Elizabeth will still become queen in this fictional account, so I don’t think to say that is a spoiler!)
As the prospect of war with France looms ever greater, William also has to content with the threat of a catholic rebellion at home. He dispatches Dominic to France to be his eyes and ears, while at home, Minuette and Elizabeth occupy themselves with discovering the whereabouts of something known as The Penitent’s Confession, a document that purports to prove that William is not Henry’s son, but the offspring of Anne and her brother, now Lord Protector.
If this document exists, and comes into the possession of the catholic faction, it could be used to incite a civil war.
While William and his friends are occupied with such weighty matters of state, there is still time for romance to blossom as Elizabeth becomes smitten with Robert Dudley; and Dominic, newly created Marquis of Exeter, begins to realise that his feelings for Minuette are not at all platonic. There’s a nice dash of sexual tension between them when they’re together, and even though I could have wished for a bit more, the book isn’t primarily a romance, and I was reasonably happy with the pace at which things were developing. The fact that they were frequently separated, with Dominic in France and Minuette moving around the country with the court actually felt realistic for people in their situations in life at the time the novel is set.
But of course, the path of true love cannot run smooth, as it seems William has also developed feelings for his childhood friend. I’m not a fan of love triangles as a rule, but this one promises to be a little different as the power is all on one side, and William has not even admitted the possibility that Minuette might not be amenable to his plans.
The novel ends with war and rebellion averted – but the final twist was one I didn’t see coming!
In short, this was a very entertaining and obviously well-researched piece of ‘alternative’ historical fiction which featured a skilful blending of actual historical figures and events with the author’s fictional creations. I enjoyed reading The Boleyn King very much, and am really looking forward to the next book The Boleyn Deceit which is out in November.