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.
Rating: B+ for narration, B+ for content
The Boleyn King is the first book in a trilogy set in an “alternative” Tudor time-line, and having thoroughly enjoyed the books in print, I was really pleased to see that they’ve been made into audiobooks with the extremely talented Simon Vance on board as narrator.
The trilogy is founded upon an intriguing premise – what if Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII a son who had lived to succeed his father?
In The Boleyn King, William Tudor (who will be crowned as Henry IX) is in the final year of his minority. Since the death of his father, Henry VIII, England has been governed by a protectorate under the control of the clever, powerful and wily George Boleyn (brother of Anne), the Duke of Rochford. Being the first book in a trilogy, it takes time in setting up the relationships that are central to all three books – namely those between the characters of William, his sister Elizabeth, William’s closest friend, Dominic Courtenay and Elizabeth’s attendant, Genevieve Wyatt (known as “Minuette”). The friendship dynamic between these four is crucial to the story as it develops – Will, the young king-in-waiting is clever, but impulsive; Dominic, five years older and a soldier of renown, is the restraining hand, the one man Will knows will always tell him the truth, no matter how unpalatable. Elizabeth is highly intelligent, more considered than William and loves her brother dearly, and Minuette is the life-and-soul, a vivacious and generous spirit who is ever the peacemaker – with a backbone as steely as the most practiced courtier.
It’s difficult to say much about the plot without giving too much away. Anyone familiar with historical fiction set in this period will have a good idea of what to expect – plenty of court intrigue and political manoeuvring, with lives often lived on the knife-edge of royal approval. The story is certainly full of all those ingredients, right from the start when Minuette and Dominic discover the body of a young woman – also one of Elizabeth’s attendants – lying at the bottom of a staircase. Did she fall, or was she pushed? The plot thickens the following morning when Minuette receives a letter from the dead woman containing a seemingly meaningless message, which, once Dom has decoded it, seems to point to the fact that the woman had been involved in a potentially treasonous plot to question William’s parentage and thus, his right to the throne.
In addition to this, there is the ever-present threat to the throne embodied by William’s half-sister Mary who, although living quietly away from court, is nonetheless the focus for the nation’s disgruntled Catholics. The treaty with France that Rochford is attempting to negotiate is foundering, meaning England is faced with the prospect of war with France once again, and at home, Minuette and Elizabeth become embroiled in the search for a document which purports to prove William’s illegitimacy and which, if it falls into the wrong hands, could incite civil war.
The story is well-paced and quite complex, so this isn’t the sort of audiobook that’s easy to keep up with without giving it one’s full attention – although fortunately, it’s so interesting that’s not difficult to do.
You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals