Book Review: The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory

Ohmygod.

The Other Boleyn Girl is amazing. However, it is ridiculously long. It doesn’t look it, at least not with the copy I have. But it spans more than fifteen years, and lots of plot occurs and it ends up feeling incredibly long. Not in a bad way, because the plot is amazing. But don’t pick it up as I did, expecting a quick, light read.

It’s historical fiction, incredibly accurate and yet enjoyable to read. The plot is fast-paced and emotionally damaging in perfect balance. The characters are deep and complex. The conflicts are twisted and vivid. The book holds onto your emotions and your mind until you finish it, and long after.

It’s weird, though, because we all know how the story ends. The book follows Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry the VIII, who replaces Katherine of Aragon, and ends up beheaded for adultery. I knew all this going in. (You know the rhyme for remembering Henry’s six wives? Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.) And yet the plot still surprised me. I haven’t taken any in depth European history classes yet (that’s next year for me), so I didn’t know the details of Katherine’s fall from favor. The entire first third of the book deals with Mary Boleyn having an affair with Henry, something I had no idea happened, and that left me completely confused, knowing that it was her sister that ended up with the throne. I had to keep reading to see how the tides would turn (and boy did they ever). And even as the book ended, I was enthralled, begging for a happy ending for at least some of the characters, even when I knew Anne’s end.

The book isn’t a tragedy, though. It left me…happy. Content. I was panicked throughout the last pages of the book, up until the author’s note at the end, which made me smile and almost cry with joy. Yes, on the surface it is about a deep-seated, violent, and merciless struggle for the ultimate power–the title of the Queen of England. But the book is about so much more. Sibling rivalry. Love and sacrifice. How far one will go for their family. Loyalty. Women’s rights (which are appalling in this era–duh–and left me pissed at most of the male characters in the book). Human rights. Tyranny. At times it is creepy and sick and disgusting. It sways between being sweet and romantic and horrifyingly dirty and inappropriate. It highlights the misguided and unscientific psyche of England in the 1500s. It is a better showcase of a tyrant’s rise to power and the danger of absolute power than any dystopian novel can ever hope to be.

So, yeah. Read it.

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