The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

Synopsis (from back of book):
Mary Boleyn catches the eye of Henry VIII when she comes to court as a girl of fourteen. Dazzled by the golden prince, Mary’s joy is cut short when she discovers that she is a pawn in the dynastic plots of her family. When the capricious king’s interest wanes, Mary is ordered to pass on her knowledge of how to please him to her friend and rival: her sister Anne.

Anne soon becomes irresistible to Henry, and Mary can do nothing but watch her sister’s rise. Anne stops at nothing to achieve her own ambition. From now on, Mary will be no more than the other Boleyn girl. But beyond the court is a man who dares to challenge the power of her family to offer Mary a life of freedom and passion. If only she has the courage to break away – before the Boleyn enemies turn on the Boleyn girls…

With The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory offers a tantalising glimpse at the life of one of history’s forgotten women – Mary Boleyn, younger sister of Anne who would go on to become Queen of England. The history of this story is interesting enough, but the richness of description and depth of character development mean that this is more than merely interesting to read – its compulsive!

I found myself able to sympathise with all three of the Boleyn siblings, in particular George, who has to deny his own sexuality and performs above and beyond the call of duty to further advance his beloved sister (although just how far he is willing to go would seem too far by any normal standard).

Mary’s predicament – of being both very young and very married – when presented to the King by her own family as a potential lover, is horrifying to say the least. That a family could be so coldly calculating in their ambition as to force their own daughters into such a precarious position is difficult to believe, and yet history itself tells us it is so – the Boleyns and the Howards were determined to see their fortunes rise by whatever means possible.

It makes for a tale that is both chilling and heart-warming in turn, set against the lavish background of the Tudor court that is so colourful and bright that the reader is lost in the madness of corruption and power plays. If Gregory’s other works are anything like this one, then I will heartily recommend picking them all up as soon as possible.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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