Sunday, 15 May 2011

Book: The Last Boleyn by Karen Harper

I have read this book before, but that was before I started writing this blog and so I have decided to write a review, as I have done for many other books that I have reread. I know that until now the books I have been writing about have all been fantasy (sorry but it is one of my current favourite genres, however there has always been a place in my heart for historical novels too, particularly ones relating to the Tudor period, and in particular the rise and fall of his second queen, Anne Boleyn. However I will be totally honest when I say that the real character to capture my heart is Mary Boleyn, 100 % and it saddens me that there are very few stories written surrounding her, The Last Boleyn is one that does just that (as does one of my other favourite Historical novels, The Other Boleyn Girl

One good thing about writing a review on a historical novel is I can't really spoil it for anyone as the events have actually happened, and so no spoilers :) still if  you don't want to know then don't read on there will be spoilers.

The difference between the Last Boleyn (LB) and the Other Boleyn Girl (OBG) is that this book deals with Mary's life in France as well as in England, and on the time she spent as Francois' mistress. Though to be fair to Phillipa Gregory she was restricted against this by going against common thought and having Mary as the younger sister of Anne. 

The book is well written though, and I believe that it really does capture the different ways that Mary loves (and hates) the men in her life. You see her childish love and idolisation of Francois, and then she works out who he really is, and what he is willing to use her for, and so you really get the opinion that her heart breaks and she really does begin to hate him. Though one thing that I do find a little unbelievable is that after the death of husband number 1 (William Carey) she was able to refuse Francois her bed, I just don't believe that it would have been possible for her to actually do that in her era, certainly being able to escape unharmed. So this is the point where I do fault Harper.

The next man to discuss would be William Carey, I'm not sure that I liked how he was portrayed in LB, I thought that he was way too focused on ambition and didn't credit his wife enough for his rise in fortunes. I also much prefer the idea from OBG that he put Mary aside while she was mistress to the King, and so was more a part of the plan in the first place, it just seemed more at place in the court. Though I did very much like the idea of Eleanor Carey and the role she played, both in the obsession with the Carey name, but also as someone who hated Mary and that Mary felt usurp her place, though you are supposed to like neither character she reminded me alot of Jane Boleyn, George's wife. 

Then there is King Henry VIII himself. I find it hard to believe, even in Harper's own writing, that Mary was his mistress for 5 years and was completely indifferent in her feelings towards him. Surely at some point she may have loved him, or at least hated him, but even at the end of the novel there seems to be no indication that she feels anything towards the King, even after the death of her brother and sister. I am sorry but on this point I have a great fault in Harper's writing. 

Then there is William Stafford though I do like the way that her relationship unfolds with Stafford I absolutely HATE the fact that he is referred to as Staff, I just honestly feel that it's not authentic to the times. Other than that I liked the relationship, I like the fact that Mary's mother seemed to approve of the relationship when others did not. It is quite a sweet and accurate story though, that in an era of arranged/forced marriages there was a secret marriage between the then queen's sister and someone of little standing. The way that William Stafford is with all the children in the novel (though they seem to be mentioned more than they are seen) is consistant and he is certainly a likeable character at the end, though I do think that the way Harper has written her novel you are supposed to warm to him as Mary does, which is an admirable thing to achieve in her writing and I think that it works well. 

The other relationships to note are those between Mary and her family, I was slightly disappointed over the whole lack of relationship between Anne, Mary and George, to those who have read OBG it is a large part of the novel and I was sad that it was missed in this one. I did like the relationship between her and her father Thomas Boleyn though, I thought that it was clear how she grew to be able to stand up against him as she grew as a person. 

The symbolism of the court as a game of chess worked well I thought, especially as each of the heads of the families seemed to use all of their children as pawns to advance their family, through marriage, such as George Boleyn's marriage to wife Jane, or through the use of a daughter as a mistress, such as Mary with both King Francois and King Henry. Though it was also clear that the children would eventually rebel, though this wasn't so clear with George in this novel, it was with Anne disobeying her father's orders to bed the King and play it her way, and Mary's later stand against her father over both her marriage and her children. Add to that their mother, Elizabeth Boleyn's refusal to become Henry VIII's mistress and I think that Harper is trying to illustrate just how strong the Boleyn women really were, and that really they were not women to be messed with. 

One thing that seemed to be missed out, somewhat suprisingly to me, was the idea of sodomy and the ring around Anne, including her supposed lovers, that were supposed to have practised it. I do not know much about Harper herself, however it could be possible that her upbringing influenced the lack of sodomy in her book, or the fact that she thought it may offend certain readers, or maybe indeed she gave no credit to the age old rumours. I do not know. On a complete side note I do not like the word sodomy, it sounds like something that is wrong when I don't think it is. 

Another thing that it is possible to critise Harper on is the master-servant relationship between both Mary and Nancy and Stafford and Stephen, I don't think it is at all realistic, and for the two servants, Nancy and Stephen, to get married, it all seemed just a little too neat and I wasn't such a fan of it. 

Til Next Time, 
L x