Book Review: The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory

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Photo via Goodreads.

 

Title: The Other Boleyn Girl
Author: Philippa Gregory
Date Read: February-September 2016
Date Reviewed: September 11th, 2016
Spoilers Ahead?: Yes

Introduction: A long time ago I wanted to watch the movie adaption (with Natalie Portman) of this book, but once I rented it and noticed there was a book I decided to not watch the film and try to find the novel. That was way back when the film came out, so it’s been a long time trying to find the book (and forgetting about the book the minute I got to the book store…whoops!). When I finally got to reading it, the book took me months (literally months, look at the date read…) to finish this book. Why? Because it starts off slow and explains every detail you can imagine! But overall, it was a good book and I want to read the rest of them!

A lot of my criticism is based on the historical accuracy, but it is also in how the writer displayed these characters. For example, Anne is said to have been a strong and not evil woman in real life, yet she seemed to be quite spineless and conniving in the novel. I would have loved to see a stronger character, since the one we got doesn’t appear to be as fleshed out as Philippa might have liked.

Quick Summary: Mary and Anne Boleyn are sisters during Henry the VIII’s reign. Mary falls in love with Henry, and begins to enjoy the life of royalty. But what happens when Anne decides to take her place? With both the girls being pawns in their family’s  game, drama sorts to ensue on all levels.

This book was (loosely) based on historical facts – Henry VIII did reign, and both of the women were his lovers. But (obviously) the conversations and exact events that happen in the novel did not happen in real life.

Evaluations: I enjoyed this book once I got closer to the end. I won’t lie and say it was all sunshine and roses all the way through, in fact it started off rather boring for me. All the explaining and slow introduction of the characters made me want to put the book down. But, I was determined to finish this book because I want to watch the movie. Once I got through the first 3/4s of the book, I became totally obsessed. The drama, love triangles, the arguments, the sex scenes, all of it combined made the book suddenly pick up speed and become almost like a historical soap opera.

I did enjoy learning a bit about history through this book. While not all the history is accurate and I fact checked after I read, it gave me an interesting insight (despite the fictional aspects of the story). After reading this, it made me want to research Henry the VIII and all of his wives and children.

Overall, while it was a slow starter, it was very insightful. Philippa Gregory did an incredible job of getting me interested in history!

Plot: The plot was a slow start, as I’ve said numerous times already. It takes a while to get into the book, but once you do you don’t regret it (well, you might. It’s a long book).  The plot follows Mary and Anne Boleyn, with Mary being the first courting the King. This part was not as interesting as Anne’s courting which occurs later in the book. I would have loved Philippa to expand on Mary’s relationship with the King to give the reader a bit more passion and love towards their relationship. Even later in the novel the King acts as if almost nothing happened with Mary, and that left me feeling cheated. The King really threw his women away like that? He never treated his wife Katherine like Mary, just treating her like some commoner. He at least talked to her…
Anne’s courting was far more interesting, and dramatic. The involvement of her brother George also made the reader question what was going on (did they actually sleep together? Was this just comments?).
I found I did not totally like the ending. Suddenly the entire court thought George and Anne had slept together, but the reader never really saw these rumors flying around. I understand that Philippa probably had to finish her book at a certain word count, but the sudden change in plot to the sad ending made me feel cheated as well.

Characters: There were many characters within in novel, but I’m only going to focus on a few.
Mary Boleyn – I liked her better than Anne, but she was definitely not my favourite character in literature. She wasn’t relatable in any sense, even if I was cheering for her over her sister. She reminded me of a “Bella Swan” sort of character (with more emotion and depth). She was there, and you rooted for her, but she could have been a lot better. Throughout the story I felt bad for her constantly – the loss of her relationship with her lover Henry, then the King Henry, then her first husband William, and up until her final marriage to William Stafford, I just felt like the entire story was stacked against her. It was like we were made to feel bad for her, and it wasn’t exactly a choice.

Anne Boleyn – Philippa Gregory must hate Anne Boleyn, because she was the main character and the villain in this novel. She was constantly trying to one up Mary. The woman was conniving, mischievous, she stabbed anyone and everyone in the back to get what she wanted, and it was impossible to like her. After researching, I discovered that most historians say Anne was quite sweet, much like Mary was for the novel. It was disappointing to see a character who I wanted to like to be so evil, but there needed to be a villain in this book. I also found that the book described Anne as being cheerful and witty, yet she never portrayed that. She was often very nasty to her sister and was always expecting to get everything she wanted. Her seduction of the King also seemed very lame in the long run. She had never known a man that she loved like the King? Never even a school girl’s crush? And suddenly she was asking everyone and their Mother how to woo, and seemed to be totally innocent. I doubt the total ignorance on her part. This also made her seem like an odd character – so manipulative and nasty, but a sweet and innocent girl? That didn’t connect well with me.
When you read up about Anne and how she gave birth to the Queen of England (Queen Elizabeth the First) you see how strong she actually was. I would have loved to see her be a stronger character. Her daughter became the Queen! This woman must have an incredible back story, and she does. This book doesn’t show this, and that lets my English heritage down.

Henry VIII – I felt like Henry was a total throwaway character. He was essentially just a means to an end, and not the character he could have been. He was some toy for both the women to sleep with to gain power and he seemed to have less strength than the women. I was always under the impression that the King’s ruled over all and were very strong, but Henry seemed very wimpy. His wife Katherine seemed to have more strength than he did, and that made him quite pathetic.

Themes/Creativity:
Witchcraft was a part of this novel, and it appears out of nowhere (like a lot of things in this novel). It appears to be a way to get rid of George and Anne since they die in real life, so they obviously have to die in the fictional novelization of their lives as well. If this would have been introduced earlier in the novel, even if just in stories and tales told to children, I would have liked this aspect of the book more. It seemed like a cop out.
The incest was also very strange. I understand it was a theory in their live’s made in historical books, but George and Anne suddenly becoming incestuous also seemed weird. It was hinted at, with a bit of foreshadowing earlier in the novel, but it could have been portrayed so much better.
The family issues also could have been made so much better. Anne and Mary constantly fight and try to one up each other, yet Mary does what Anne says and Anne still wants Mary’s help. Two sisters who hate each other as much as these women do wouldn’t help each other out, in my opinion. If they had little spats here and there it would be understandable, but the loyalty and changed in personalities when they need to like each other was incredibly strange.

Uniqueness: Compared to more historical accurate novels, this book is unique! Anne is evil, Mary isn’t strong, there’s incest and witchcraft and drama! It’s unique! It gives a very different spin on this story, which makes Philippa a great novelist. If so many people read this, despite the historical inaccuracy and enjoyed it, she has done a great job! I applaud her for this novel despite it’s troubles. It truly is a beautiful read! Don’t discount the issues I found within it anything other than constructive criticism! Philippa Gregory did a fantastic job making this novel and I want to read more of her books to see how she grew (since this was the first book written in the series).

Strengths: The love stories were a great strength. Philippa should write Harlequin romance novels! This book is almost like a historical Pretty Little Liars or Desperate Housewives! Which seems fitting, since there is a Tudors series on television….

Weaknesses: Character growth. I found these characters stale and their descriptions in accurate. A conniving, evil woman is sweet and virginal? That’s definitely two sets of traits I wouldn’t necessarily put together. A witty and caring woman suddenly becomes wicked towards her sister every time she sees her? Hmm, that doesn’t make much sense either…

Score: 3 out of 5 stars.
I enjoyed this book and I will read the rest of the series (it will probably take me a decade, but I’ll get there), but it had it’s issues.

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briarsreviews

I'm a Canadian book, television and film reviewer. I accept review requests! Feel free to leave a comment if you are interested in specific reviews. I accept review requests on this website or via briarramses@gmail.com

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