The Other Boleyn Girl is an excellent portrayal of one of the most fascinating eras in English history, the turbulent reign of Henry VIII. Under Henry's direction, the English Court changes course, breaking from the Roman Church in order to dissolve Henry's marriage to Katherine of Aragon, who cannot provide a living heir to the throne.
The relatives of the great aristocratic families fill the courts and fawn upon the King and are immensely enriched by this association. To this end, various influential nobles position their young female family members to serve the Queen and gain the King's particular attentions. Comely as a young man, Henry VIII is accustomed to garnering the flattery of these young court women.
When Henry first notices Mary Boleyn Carey, he is attracted to her refreshing candor and youthful exuberance as well as her bright-eyed beauty. Mary, already married, is acceptable for a tryst with the King. A dalliance would actually be scandalous were she not married, a virgin and therefore prime for marriage to a noble. Mary's sister, the erudite Anne, recently returned from the French Court, is one of the clever minds pushing Mary to prominence as the King's paramour. The third Boleyn, George, their brother, is also a popular member of the current royal Court. Sisters and brother form the family triumvirate that is an essential element of the intrigue surrounding the eventual dissolution of marriage to Katherine of Aragon that will set a precedent and change the history of England.
Mary is the primary focus of the novel, even when replaced in the King's affections by her duplicitous sister, Anne. Yet Mary remains a trusted royal confidante and servant of her family's interests. George and Mary are instructed by their family to retain their favored positions in support of the clever, if unlikable, Anne. For five long years Anne seduces and challenges Henry, until she herself is crowned Queen. The faithful Mary remains at her sister's side, forced to watch Anne's increasing emotional instability. Eventually, Henry tires of Anne's insufferable temper and constant demands, his attention captured by the seemingly docile and self-effacing behavior of a simpering Jane Seymour. Anne must live with the precedent she's established, swept aside by the King in his desperate pursuit of another fertile woman to provide his male progeny.
Philippa Gregory's characters are intricate and persuasive, the story masterfully told, the plots, counter-plots and political intrigue unending. No less complicated than modern day political affairs, the degree of scheming is truly Machiavellian. Engaging and thought-provoking, Gregory's beautifully imagined novel overflows with greed and ambition, teeming with ignoble characters who bet everything on the whims of a puerile King. The adventure is magnificent.