The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory, Susan  Lyons "You just keep on being sweetly stupid, Mary. You do it beautifully."

Mary Boleyn is one of Queen Katherine's many ladies-in-waiting. But things change when she catches King Henry VIII's eye. Her family, led by Uncle Thomas Howard, quickly push her into becoming the King's mistress, but Anne, Mary's sister, is never satisfied. Set amidst the turmoil of King Henry's early rule, we follow Mary through her affair with the King, the strife between King Henry and Queen Katherine, and the marriage of King Henry to Queen Anne.

The best way I can describe this book is "guilty pleasure". There is so much to dislike about the book, and yet I was entertained for the entire part. Not to mention, this book made me research Tudor England and the whole drama with King Henry VIII and his many wives, and any book that makes me interested in looking up history or researching the backstory gets a bit of a boost in my book.

First off, I am no historian, nor am I particularly well-versed in this era. Therefore, I am not going to get into much detail about whether or not this book is historically accurate. There are other reviews that go into FAR better detail about whether this is accurate to history; I will defer to them. But I do caution: if you are expecting 100% accuracy, I would encourage you to pass this book up. Just the itsy bitsy bit of research I have done doesn't seem to quite match up to what PG presents here.

With that out of the way, let's get on to the good stuff!

First off, I really didn't like our "protagonist", Mary Boleyn. In Gregory's story, Mary Boleyn, the sometimes "other Boleyn girl" (though the term was applied occasionally to Anne), is the younger sister of Anne (this is one of those areas where historians will tell you that most likely, Mary was the eldest--and in this book, I really felt that Mary acted more like the eldest than the youngest). She is married to William Carrey and quickly attracts the eye of the King. Her family then tells her to seduce him and bed him, which she does. But after the birth of her second child, Anne whisks the King's attention, and Mary is left in the background.

I'll admit, I like it when characters aren't perfect, aren't the best or smartest in a field, aren't able to make the right decision each and every time, have actual flaws. But Mary really tries the patience. According to history, Mary was the beauty but not so bright (it was Anne who was the brains), but Mary in TOBG seems unable to put the simplest conclusions together.

For instance, when William Stafford leaves to secure a farm for a "court lady" he's been interested in, Mary IMMEDIATELY assumes he has been seeing someone BESIDES her and snubs him. OF COURSE, we know that William, who knows Mary's desire to be a simple farmer's wife, was actually purchasing the farm for HER. (In Gregory's defense, this Misunderstanding did not last very long.)

Another count against Mary is her passivity. I know women in this period do not have the freedoms that modern women do, but Mary was a complete doormat. She rarely even tried to defy her family. Most of her actions are either A) forced upon her or B) reactions to other people's actions. She doesn't initially WANT to seduce the King, but her family forces her. She balks at helping Anne, but her family tells her to. She wants to see her kids, but her family won't let her; therefore, she doesn't see her kids.

What is almost worse is when Mary complains about how she can't do anything, how if she had her own free will, she wouldn't have done X. She could have put up a little more defense, tried a little harder, pushed a little more. Or she could have just been kicked out of her family. But personally, I like Queen Katherine's response to Mary's BS best:

"If you had not been tempted, you would not have fallen. If it was not in your interest to betray me, then you would have been loyal. Go away, Lady Carrey. You are no better than your sister, who pursues her own ends like a weasel and never glances to one side or the other."


And that leads to my other complaint. Mary likes to think she is way better than her sister, Anne...but most of what Anne does, Mary has done before. Or she gloats (and I mean GLOATS) about what she didn't do. Such as:

+ When Anne was sent to Hever, Mary writes Anne every week and gushes about her pregnancy and how the King lurves her so much.

+ Enjoying how Anne has to wait on her, then being p!ssy when the tables are turned.

+ Being upset when Anne gets married to the King, but legitimizes her affair with the King (in fact, I never felt that Mary was at all guilty for sleeping with the married King or committing adultery against her own husband).

+ Being upset when Anne is pregnant with the King's baby, but when she was pregnant, she rubbed her sister's nose in it.

And then we have how she has an affair and can't BELIEVE how her husband William Carey is upset at her (uh, duh?) or her claim to be loyal to the Queen even though she is sleeping with the King. For the latter, she even names the child she bore through Henry after Queen Katherine! (How tacky!)

But it seems that Mary is supposed to be the perfect, sweet sister. She is loyal to the Queen, even turning against her sister. At one point, Mary becomes a confidant of sorts to the Queen, and the two giggle about how awful Anne is--sure, that's believable! We also know Mary is "good" because she wants to abandon court life for country life after a mere 3 month stay at Hever! And then, when she becomes a farmer's wife, she ADORES making cheese and cooking and has NO PROBLEMS with all the work she suddenly has to do. And while Anne meets a terrible end, Mary gets a happily ever after--her children, a loving husband, a little farm, and all the things she ever wanted.


Instead of being the perfect, sweet, innocent, beleaguered sister, Mary came across as a dense, two-faced, passive hypocrite, unable to do anything for herself, who somehow got everything she wanted but didn't deserve.

But as much as I despised Mary, I adored Anne and Queen Katherine. Sure, Anne is personified as a bawdy devil, a woman desperate for power and the Queen's throne instead of an intelligent, highly religious woman who really did love the King, but I felt that a lot of what she did was understandable. She was smart and cunning; when her family didn't support her (and for a good portion of the book, it seemed they did EVERYTHING to make her life miserable), she made her own way using her own wits and skill. Mary needed guiding throughout her entire time of her affair; Anne was more than capable of handling herself. Her struggles to give birth to a son were heart-rending; her desperation understandable (not that I really believe she slept with her brother or was a witch). As for Queen Katherine, she was a respectable woman, a good wife. I felt bad for how King Henry put her away in favor of Anne.

As for the rest of the characters, they are pretty one-dimensional. King Henry is ALMOST ALWAYS called a "boy" by Mary, which was irritating and disturbing. King Henry, I always got the impression, was a pretty strong, charismatic guy. I'm sure he had some childlike aspects, but I felt nearly every other time Mary saw him, she was comparing him to a child. If Mary found him so childlike, how could she have a years-long affair? Ew! Jane Parker is so snoopy and awful; Jane Seymour is so virtuous and sickeningly pure; Uncle Thomas was pure evil; George honestly felt campy gay (I'm surprised more people didn't find out about his orientation); William Stafford is so "wonderful" and "manly", I wanted to be sick. None of them really stood out; none of them felt like people whom I could interact with and meet on a daily basis.

A key component of this story, the whole reason I believe it was written, was to show the competition between the two sisters, to compare and contrast. But while The Cranes Dance did an EXCELLENT job of showing two sisters who love each other but feel threatened by each other as well, this book flopped. I felt like both girls hated each other viscerally, until one of them would do something unexpectedly nice to the other or say how fond they were of their sister (and mean it).

Another thing that I felt really hurt the story was one key historical component. I know I said I wouldn't nitpick history, but I felt this component REALLY affected the story. There is NO WAY Mary's son would have ever been considered an heir apparent to the King, even if he were to marry her after the fact. The King already had an illegitimate son through Bessie Blount; he would have been the first in line if illegitimate children were in line for the throne. So all of the family's crazy talk and effort to get Mary married to King Henry and how their illegitimate son would be heir is silly and ultimately pointless. Sure, if the King married Mary, she MIGHT have another son, but that is the only way for an heir to come.

After Mary's affair with the King, the story really stops being about her and is instead about Anne. I guess it makes sense, but when the story tries to return to being about Mary, it is boring and so drowned in sugary, sweet sappiness, I thought I was going to go into a coma. Mary and William are a boring couple. They meet, they fall in love, life goes perfectly for them (with a few mild speedbumps that are IN NO WAY Mary's fault). William is not at all frustrated with Mary for being unable to do simple household tasks; Mary loves being a housewife and getting her hands rough and dirty. William is A-OK with Mary's earlier affair; Mary has no problem giving up court life to live in the country. Oh, and they have AMAZING MIND-BLOWING SEX. The relationship COULD have been interesting; these two characters come from wildly different worlds. But because Mary has to have everything turn out perfect for her, there was no drama.

I must commend PG (or her editors, future books will tell which of those is true) on the brisk pace. Very rarely does the book just sit around and do nothing; for the most part, the story moves and is pretty engaging. I might not have liked some of the characters, but I WAS interested in seeing how they would turn out. And I listened to this book to the very end with little regret for the time I put into it (and I've regretted many a book I've sat listening to through to the end).

One more thing: Susan Lyons, you are an amazing narrator! Pat yourself on the back!

I do not recommend this book for history buffs or hard-core Tudor enthusiasts, but for those that don't mind some mindless, deliciously catty entertainment, this is a decent read. At the very least, it will make you head to the library or the ebook store or to Wiki to do some research of the time; at the best, you will have spent a few hours (depending on whether you are reading or listening, of course) immersed in a time left behind long ago. I certainly don't regret the time I spent listening to it or the new knowledge I have of the Tudors.