It could only be a matter of time before I reviewed this one. It was inevitable. I'm going to start this review off by saying this was the very first book set in a time before the 1700s that I'd ever read. It was definitely the first Tudor book I'd had an association with. You can basically say that this books started my love affair with 16th century England, Henry VIII, and everyone/everything else associated with this time period. For that, Philippa Gregory, I give you a mad props. You made the historical geek that was buried deep inside of me come screaming out into the world....and here I am today.
Like I said, I went into this book knowing virtuously knowing nothing at all except Henry VIII had a lot of wives and that this one in particular, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded. That's it. This is all that Philippa G. expects you to know, and she runs with it. As the title implies, the book is about the less famous of the Boleyn sisters, Mary. She was Anne's younger sister, an early mistress of Henry whom he delightfully deflowers and she later bore two of his children. When Anne comes waltzing into the court, Henry is immediately obsessed with her. Anne keeps him wrapped around her finger for six years, never fully taking the title of mistress. Henry in the meantime kicks out his old spinsterish wife, Katherine of Aragon and tells the Pope to GTFO. He marries Anne and they have a much unwanted daughter, Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Anne is sexually aroused by her homosexual brother, gives birth to a bunch of deformed babies, and in retaliation, and takes ward of Mary's son, never allowing Mary to call him her son again. Henry is getting tired of Anne's inability to produce a son and her general bitchiness, so when it is found out that she is a witch, he figures this is the perfect time to get rid of her. Since being a witch is a crime, and so is sleeping with hundreds of other men while being married to the king, Anne gets punished pretty severely: she gets her head cut off.
[Wondering why all of the random phrases are bolded? They are just a few of the historical errors found in the book. Since I was clueless when I first read it, I never noticed them, but just in summarizing the book more than a year later, I am literally pulling my hair out.]
So where is Mary this whole time? Other than being without her son and banished from court (which is probably a good thing in her eyes), she's living a grand life. She married a man of lower rank purely for love, lived in the country and planted crops. Because she stayed away from her family and the court during Anne's reign, she was able avoid punishment in being associated with Anne (their poor brother, George, one of the only likable characters, sadly did not).
Throughout her other Tudor novels, it is blatantly obvious that Philippa hates Anne Boleyn, and in essence, Elizabeth I. They are always written out to be awful, evil, horrible characters. Mary says something along the lines of "Anne wants everything that isn't hers" and it's so true; her selfishness is disgusting in this book. When her head was hacked off, it was the first and only time I would ever cheer at that event.
OK, it must sound like I hate this book with all my being, but I really don't. I just hate the fact that Philippa felt like she needed to fluff up and twist the book around just to make it interesting. In reality, this period of time doesn't need any help in being interesting and colorful on its own.
So after all this, what's the verdict? Believe it or not, 4 stars. I'm not sure if I can ever read it again without cringing but since it planted the historical seed that made me who I am today, it has a special place in my heart. And yes, that is the dorkiest thing I have ever written.