Review: The Boleyn Trilogy by Laura Andersen

My focus over the last few years has been on contemporary romance, but my first book (and the genre to which I fully intend to return, once the muse is exhausted) is historical fiction. Tudor England, to be exact, though I made a concerted effort to avoid Henry VIII or Elizabeth I, both of whom have already eked out a sprawling and permanent residence on bookstore shelves. Instead, I focused on Mary I – a short-reigned and much-maligned queen, who gets next to no attention and who, despite the atrocities committed in her name, I feel deserves better than what history has given her.

But my first love is and will always be Anne Boleyn. She, too, is omnipresent when it comes to historical fiction, which is why I chose not to write about her (well, that and the fact that I don’t feel I could do her justice). But when I became aware of an alternative history trilogy where Anne Boleyn not only didn’t miscarry her son with Henry VIII, but outlived the king himself, I knew I had to read it.

The Boleyn Trilogy by Laura Andersen didn’t disappoint. Queen Anne is a peripheral character, but her influence is seen when it comes to her daughter Elizabeth and her son, William (or Henry IX, as he’s known to his subjects). The court orbits the teenage children of Henry and Anne and their best friends – Dominic Courtenay, fictional cousin of the real Edward Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon; and Minuette Wyatt, daughter of one of Queen Anne’s favorite (fictional) ladies-in-waiting. As the books progress, a love triangle between William, Dominic and Minuette develops, though this plot line doesn’t overshadow the political intrigue that threatens to overwhelm this fictional Tudor England.

The best part of the trilogy is probably Elizabeth. She remains the fiercely independent, brilliant, politically-savvy woman she was in real life, but as sister to the king (and a female), her power is limited – though William certainly gives her more freedom than her real brother, Edward. I enjoyed her relationship with her mother, which sadly never developed in life, as Anne died when Elizabeth wasn’t even three years old. I liked seeing her as a woman with a close “girlfriend” rather than the perpetually envious, sometimes savage queen who wouldn’t allow her ladies-in-waiting to wear colors lest they steal attention from her.

Real historical figures and well-known families of the time are represented, including George Boleyn; Mary Stuart (Queen of Scots); Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester (and rumored lover of Elizabeth); the King of France; Queen Mary I; Lady Jane Grey and more. Political plots abound, and everyone more or less meets the same fate as their real, historical counterparts – although not always in the same way.

The series as a whole is overwhelmingly successful, though it’s not perfect. The love triangle does veer toward the melodramatic in spots, especially as the book progresses and certain choices are made, and the fun-loving, affable Will we meet in the first book devolves into a twisted imitation of himself from whom even the real King Henry, in his tyrannical years, might have recoiled in fear. The first book revolves around a murder mystery that never really succeeds in becoming the main plot, though later books focus more on the murder’s ties to the war between Catholic and Protestant. But where Andersen really shines is in her understanding of court life and her ability to take characters we know in one way and show them in a completely different context. She is adept at developing the kind of intrigue that ran rampant in those days and applying it to a setting that has been done time and time again, making it feel new.

Writing alternative fiction is a gamble, especially when the characters and settings are so well-known and loved. I don’t know that I’d be brave enough to try it. But thankfully, Laura Andersen did, and created a wholly enjoyable trilogy that I definitely recommend. Fans of Philippa Gregory and Showtime’s The Tudors will love it.

What are your thoughts on alternative history? If you could “rewrite history”, what would you choose to do over?

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