Trenton Reads

Our literary adventures …

Review: The Boleyn Inheritance

Last spring I devoured Philippa Gregory’s acclaimed novel The Other Boleyn Girl and credit it with reviving my latent interest in historical fiction. I was hesitant to pick up the follow up, The Boleyn Inheritance, certain it wouldn’t measure up to the original. But when I saw a shiny new copy on the shelf at the library, I had to take it home.

The Boleyn Inheritance is narrated by three women, only one of which I can say I really knew and liked by the end of the book. Anne of Cleves was a woman of integrity, grace and wisdom, the only wife of King Henry VIII to survive his tyranny. Well, I guess his last wife – number six, Catherine Parr – outlived him, but only because he died before he could kill her. Anyway, there was something satisfying about the fact that the only truly honorable wife was the one to escape alive.

As for the other two narrative voices, Jane Boleyn and Katherine Howard, the characters were just hard to like. Jane was deceitful and scheming, with allegiance to no one but herself. I was shocked to find myself feeling sympathetic in the beginning of the book, given what I knew about her from The Other Boleyn Girl. I kept hoping perhaps she had seen the folly of her ways and reformed, had become a better woman. But alas, it was not so.

As for Katherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, she was vain, greedy, shallow, and like fellow narrator Jane Boleyn, without moral compass. I could almost sympathize with her despite this because of her age – she was Queen of England at age 15 – and the fact that she had grown up in the perversely driven Howard family without guidance or example. Still, she was difficult to know – or maybe there just wasn’t much to know.

Overall, it was a great read, not quite as good as The Other Boleyn Girl but surprisingly close. I think my issue was with the narrative voice. I preferred the singular narrative voice of Mary Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl. It felt like I got to know her better over the course of the book.

As with The Other Boleyn Girl, I took issue with some of the language, wondering if it was really appropriate to the time period. In several instances, Katherine Howard described someone or something as being nasty. My teenage daughter’s speech is peppered liberally with this term, but was it a commonly used adjective in Tudor England?

The novel provides a fascinating, in depth picture of King Henry’s fourth and fifth marriages, although I wish it had been fleshed out with a little more information about the economic, political and religious state of the kingdom at the time. Gregory does a marvelous job of portraying the decadence of Henry’s pleasure-seeking court as well as the desperate political and social climbing of England’s most prominent families as they schemed and labored to be his most favored, no matter what the cost.

Related Reviews:
A Life in Books
Book Reporter
Curled Up with a Good Book
The Literate Housewife

Reading Group Guide


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