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The Boleyn Inheritance

by Philippa Gregory

The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory X
The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2006, 528 pages

    Aug 2007, 544 pages


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Power Reviewer
Cathryn Conroy

A Riveting Story Written With a Touch of Literary Genius
When it comes to historical fiction, I do think the most fascinating time period is the reign of King Henry VIII during the first half of the 16th century. Why? It was such a soap opera! Everything was done to excess—eating, drinking, gossiping, playing and most of all extraordinarily bad behavior. This book, part of the Plantagenet and Tudor Novels series by Philippa Gregory, tells the story of the fourth and fifth wives of old King Henry.

No. 4 was Anne of Cleaves, the only one of his six wives to escape the marriage with her life intact. Henry despised her for many reasons, and only months after what he quickly considered a sham marriage, he caught the eye of 15-year-old Katherine Howard, portrayed in this book as a ditzy, greedy, vain and vapid little girl.

While this fictional story that is faithful to the historical facts may read like a soap opera in the extreme, Philippa Gregory has written this book with a touch of literary genius. Each chapter is told in the first person by one of three people: Anne of Cleaves, Katherine Howard or Jane Boleyn, who served both Anne and Katherine as a lady-in-waiting and was the sister-in-law of the doomed Anne Boleyn. Gregory so deftly and vividly distinguishes each of these three women's personalities and voices that chapter titles are almost not needed. Read a few sentences, and you will know who is the narrator. It is an extraordinary writing feat that adds abundant richness to an already gripping narrative. And face it, that's tough to do when anyone who studied European history in high school already knows the tragic, gruesome and terror-filled ending.

A valuable lesson to learn from this period of history: King Henry VIII may have received the crown humbly in 1509, but he turned into a tyrannical monarch who assumed he had the right to absolute power. He truly believed that whatever he did, no matter how horrific, violent or cruel, was the will of God. There were no checks and balances on his power. To silence his enemies, he killed them—thousands and thousands of them. He stole. He lied (a lot). He was duplicitous. He terrified an entire country. He proved that absolute power absolutely corrupts.

Gregory's Best
This is by far Philippa Gregory's best historical novel. I love the way she interweaves the voices of three characters--none of which have been given much voice in previous novels by other authors. I've always wondered what motivated Lady Rocheford (Jane Boleyn) to assist in Katherine Howard's silly scheming, and Gregory explores one possibility. I also knew that Anne of Cleves stayed in England and was kind of an "auntie" to Henry's children, but she becomes a much more real person here. I can't wait for Gregory's next novel, The Other Queen--about Mary, Queen of Scots--to come out in Spring 2008.

A nice reading experience.
Reading this book was a lovely experience. The way Gregory illustrates the lives of these 3 women is magnificent. It had the right amount of drama that made it so engaging and exciting. There are some flaws, but overall, This book is worth a read.
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