Everyone knows the fate of Anne Boleyn, but not many know the story of her rise to majesty and the part played by her rival and sister, Mary, who was Henry's mistress and mother to two of his bastard children before the dazzling older Boleyn girl even caught his eye. Philippa Gregory, whose own role as the Queen of historical romance grows more secure with each new novel, has surpassed her self with this epic tale of lust, jealousy and betrayal.
The Other Boleyn Girl charts the lives of both Boleyns -- each in their turn "the other Boleyn Girl" -- and their fiercely ambitious, conniving family who used the girls as pawns to advance their own positions at the court of Henry VIII. At 13, Mary is little more than a child when she is presented to Henry, ordered by her scheming family to serve her King and country by opening her legs whenever commanded, or doing anything else the great monarch desires. And while his loins are satisfied, life at court is sweet for the unofficial Queen and her pushy coterie. Inevitably though, the King's eyes soon begin to wander and Mary is overlooked, helpless to do anything but aid her family's plot to advance their fortunes, replace her with Anne and give Henry the greatest gift of all: a son and heir.
So good a job has Ms Gregory done at portraying the Boleyns and Howards as selfish, scheming, treacherous manipulators however, that it becomes increasingly hard to feel empathy for any of them. While Mary is merely hapless, Anne is the most ruthless of them all, so that instead of feeling cheated by knowing the outcome of her story, it only serves to help digest her unpalatable rise. Such a gruesome destiny was never more deserved. Ms Gregory has worked hard at researching her historical references. Daily life at court is described in fascinating detail -- from the relentless leisure pursuits, masques and banquets laid on for the easily bored King to the complex hierarchies and machinations of the courtiers. However, the fall of Queen Katherine of Aragon and her only child, the Princess Mary, and the politics of the competing European courts and the break with Rome are seen only as a backdrop to the bawdy goings-on of the Boleyns and their fateful race for the crown.