In a reading world that has become saturated with novels about Tudor England and the tantalizing life at court, how does a writer make sure their book or series stands apart from the rest? Many tactics have been tried: accounts of Henry VIII’s reign told from the perspectives of those closest to king and his wives and told from the point of view of the largely overlooked serving staff; novelizations sticking so close to the historical facts that they border on non-fiction; some novels that indulge in the supernatural or provocative speculation surrounding Anne Boleyn and her successors as Henry’s queen while others go out of their way to explain it all away. Inevitably, some facets of history are changed for the sake of the story. For Laura Andersen and her Boleyn Trilogy, the answer was to take that inevitability and run with it. The premise of her Boleyn Trilogy lies with the question, what would have happened if Anne Boleyn’s third and final pregnancy had resulted in the healthy son so much depended upon?
Beginning with The Boleyn King, Andersen’s trilogy focuses on the lives of William a.k.a. King Henry IX and his closes family and friends. Rather than spending much of her early life as a threat to her siblings, Elizabeth has grown up under the care of her mother, Anne Boleyn who remained queen and outlived her husband (eliminating wives three through six from the legend of Henry VIII). A close advisor to her younger brother, there are two others who round out the royals’ inner circle. Genevieve “Minuette” Wyatt, the orphaned daughter of one of Anne Boleyn’s favorite ladies was born the same day as the young king and grew up as a royal ward, a playmate and companion to both royals. Similarly, Dominic Courtenay, though a few years older than the king, has been a constant in the monarch’s life and is one of the few people he truly trusts and whose advice William will take.
Andersen maintains the conniving, favoritism, and plotting of the Tudor court through The Boleyn King and The Boleyn Deceit. Her examination of the ways things would have stood between England, France, and Spain if Anne Boleyn had borne a healthy son is pretty detailed for this type of historical novel. Even those novels that follow the traditional course of history tend to focus more on the showy side of international relations and their direct impact to life at court (who was visiting and what their role was) more than the practical and political motivations behind various maneuvers. Despite losing four of Henry VIII’s wives from the historical record, the tension between Catholics and Protestants in Andersen’s version of Tudor England remains just as high it ever did. Rebellions and threatened insurrections fill the first two novels and spill over into the third and final novel, The Boleyn Reckoning, due to hit stores July 15th.
Of course, what so many read novels about the Tudors for is the romantic intrigue. There is no shortage of that in Andersen’s trilogy. In The Boleyn Deceit, both Dominic and William begin to see their impulsive, lively friend Minuette in a different light. While Dominic struggles to come to terms with just what he feels and wants, once William has had his revelation, he has no qualms following in his father’s footsteps, determining to ignore politics when it comes to his own marriage. But with whom do Minuette’s heart and affections lie? As the love that bonded four young friends together begins to transform into something else, their bonds are tested. It is well known that those most capable of hurting us are those we love most and that idea is on broad display in Andersen’s trilogy.
While The Boleyn King and The Boleyn Deceit are solid and engaging in their own rights, it is in the concluding The Boleyn Reckoning that everything comes to its frustratingly satisfying climax. Having had two novels to get to know the main players as characters, the third novel is the best kind of agony as readers watch their favorites make mistakes they know should have been anticipated or give themselves over to their worst selves when readers know they’re capable of so much better. The twists and turns of The Boleyn Reckoning are less straightforward than in the two previous novels but carry far more weight emotionally.
It isn’t a secret that I place a lot of emphasis on how books or series end. After reading the first two installments, I was expecting the third and final book to be more of the same; solid and better than many of the other Tudor novels out there but mostly for the novelty of the concept. Instead, I was surprised by how satisfied I was with both the novel as a whole and with the final pages. When I say it was frustrating, I mean it in the best way possible; it is a novel that can suck you in and make you want to give up at times because of how much you want to reach through the pages and smack the characters around a bit. As a former history major, there are also many elements that I found particularly fun (for instance, knowing how many of the nobility met their ends in reality compared to their fates in these novels is cleverly done). Andersen manages to alter history without changing it as much as you would expect to be necessary.
In short, I would recommend the trilogy based largely on the strength of the final novel. There’s still time to read The Boleyn King and The Boleyn Deceit before The Boleyn Reckoning is available on July 15th.