Click here to read reviewer Karyn Johnson's take on The Boleyn King.
Andersen asks her readers to suspend English history as we know it, positing the birth of a son to Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII: young Henry IX, called William, who is near his majority, relishing the opportunity for freedom from the oversight of his Lord Protector, the Duke of Rochford. Anne Boleyn, the widowed Queen Mother, has seen her children firmly ensconced at the seat of power, William a natural ruler and Elizabeth one of his staunchest supporters and close confidante: “He is his father’s son. What he wants he will take.”
Also of inestimable value to the king are his two best friends besides Elizabeth, Dominic Courtenay and Genevieve Antoinette Wyatt, an orphaned ward Anne has taken under her wing, affectionately called Minuette. The four friends are inseparable, having known each other since childhood, and fiercely loyal to one another and to their king. William trusts no one more than these three, even in the midst of political conflict, for all are well versed in the intricacies of the court, the powerful families and the ongoing struggles between Catholics and Protestants. Half-sister Mary Tudor stays away from court to avoid controversy but remains a pawn for powerful factions who would see a Catholic on the throne.
While war with France hovers on the horizon and William is called to display the leadership that will win the favor of his subjects, there is another threat in play, a far more subtle attack on the young king’s legitimacy: a signed document by a reputable witness that supposedly proves Anne Boleyn’s son is not Henry’s blood heir at all but the progeny of another. If this document is made public, the reaction will be swift: clearly English citizens will not accept a Boleyn as a ruler. It matters not whether the document is real or a sham. Its power lies in the fact that it exists. Andersen demonstrates how the political machinations around the throne continue to foment rebellion, fueled by the religious struggle that has bedeviled England since Henry’s break with the Church and his marriage to Anne Boleyn.
The commitment of the foursome is critical to the plot. Each fictional friend—Dominic and Minuette as well as Elizabeth—play a part in the discovery of “The Penitent’s Confession,” an investigation into the sudden death of a pregnant lady-in-waiting (and the father of her unborn child), those involved in the treasonous conspiracy, the warlike gestures of France compounding William’s problems. A number of personal concerns cloud the efforts of the friends while consigned to individual tasks in exposing the conspiracy, romantic complications that add spice to the tale from battleground to bedroom.
Regardless of how believable Andersen makes her plot, the facts remain the same: a reader must decide if it is possible to rewrite history, to create a scenario that is sustainable beyond this novel without becoming mere fantasy. So far Andersen has proven equal to the task, the political maneuvers familiar and devious, the religious conflicts a driving force and the young king stepping into his role thus far without stumbling. What comes next may be more of a challenge, Minuette a critical element in an unfolding drama with serious consequences for the throne of England.