The Disclaimer: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this through Goodreads Giveaways/First Reads. I was looking forward to it and it arrived in just a few days.
What if….The age old question of ‘what if’ is undertaken by author Laura Andersen who wonders how things would’ve played out had Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII produced a male heir.
Most people know enough of the basics of history of Anne and Henry VIII, from falling in love while he was still married, to the small matter of breaking away from Rome, the Pope and the Catholic Church and changing religion forever so he could have his marriage annulled and he could legally shack up with Anne, to the other teensy situation of Anne being accused of sleeping her way around town with the menfolk, including her brother, leading to Anne being decapitated. All caught up? Good. New to this? Read a couple books and/or watch the first two seasons of The Tudors. Actually do both. Books then DVDs. It’ll be better that way. Trust me.
So Andersen asks what changes if Anne had been able to carry a healthy baby boy to full term and we get a really good story. William, the first and only male surviving male heir to the throne, is crowned as King of England at the ripe ol’ age of ten when his father died. Needless to say, not many ten year olds are equipped to handle running a monarchy, so his uncle and a court of advisors are really the ones in charge until our dashing king turns eighteen and gets in the driver’s seat.
Along for the ride are his sister Elizabeth (yes, that Elizabeth), his best friend and confidant Dominic, and Minuette, a young girl who was taken under the wing of Queen Anne after being orphaned and raised in the royal court.
More than loyalty to the crown, country or love interests, the biggest theme in this book was friendships. Loyalty and love within those friendships, but friendship none the less. Our four key players grew up together and the story weaves around the loyalties and honor of those friendships and what it means to have people around you that you can trust.
It’s important to note that this book is NOT about how things would’ve played out differently if Henry and Anne had worked out their issues. This is not a book about them. If you’re looking for that, look elsewhere. Anne makes appearances throughout the book but is a very minor character while her reach and teachings are illustrated throughout the pages and highlighted by the characters thoughts and actions. Andersen had me almost feeling sympathetic toward an aging Anne, losing her eyesight and towards the very end, her wits. If you know anything about Boleyn, you know she is not a person that normally draws sympathy from people so kudos to Andersen for making that work without seeming like that was the point. It was never “oh look at POOR POOR ANNE.”
I tend to have a hard time buying it when fictional characters are thrown in the mix with people that existed. It’s usually too hokey or I do a lot of eye rolling and muttering “oh that’s convenient” at story lines or dialogue that try to hard to make the combination of fact and fiction work. Andersen, showing her skill as a writer and story teller, does it with ease. I had no trouble imagining these fictional characters in this world that actually existed.
Fiction? Yes. Factual? Indeed. It would be a mistake to review this book without mentioning the amount of research that Andersen put in. It would be easy when dealing in fiction to sort of half ass it and not really dig into accurate facts, events and people of the time period. This didn’t happen. We’re given a glimpse into a world that has been well documented and covered so often that it’s easy to feel bored or disappointed when reading books on the same subject because it never feels new or fresh. Again, not a problem with this book.
Sisters Elizabeth and Mary, both very real people with very real reputations, were both represented well in this book. Mary of zero tolerance (Bloody Mary, anyone?) and Elizabeth of great intelligence and a natural ability to run a kingdom. Even though we’re seeing these two women at a very young age, Andersen kept true to their personalities – a difficult task when putting non-fictional people into a fictional world and dealing with fictional characters.
4/5 stars for me. This book is the first of a trilogy so there is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end yet it wraps up somewhat satisfyingly for me.