Philippa Gregory pens vivid history. Review by S.K. Slevinski

Book Cover

In Print
In The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory brings new life into the much retold story of Anne Boleyn's rise and fall in the English court by turning to the infamous queen's sister Mary as storyteller.

This novel follows the experiences of Mary Boleyn, Anne's elder sister, as she enters womanhood in an ambitious family in England's royal court during the 16th century. This novel is classic historical fiction, based upon painstaking research on Gregory's part, but filling in the gaps with character exploration and creativity of plotting. When King Henry's gaze falls upon the blossoming young Mary, the Boleyn family sees an opportunity for advancement at court. Putting aside Mary's husband, the family encourages an affair between Mary and the King, a union that produces two children, albeit illegitimate heirs to the throne. Reaping the rewards of the King's favor, the family sets their sights even higher when the King's roving eye turns toward the wickedly ambitious young Anne. As the Boleyn family and Anne enter a deadly political game to get Anne married to the King, Mary comes to realize that she wants something altogether different out of life.

Book Cover

On Audio
As with any novel detailing well-known historical events, this novel must necessarily follow the events as they happened. Gregory's talent emerges in her ability to make this story fresh and intriguing, and to develop the character-conflict of protagonist Mary amid the known tides of history. The setting thrives with rich historical detail; those who enjoy the escapism of a medieval/renaissance milieu will find the setting of this novel as entrancing as any fantasy story. Yet, the story remains closely tied to its characters, creating a convincing portrayal of how history may have resulted from the clashes of personalities, the decisions of historical players for good or for ill, and the happenstances of court life. Gregory does a great job of keeping the story interesting even when Mary is away from court, and of keeping readers engaged to the last page even though most will know how it ends.

I would highly recommend this novel to any fan of historical fiction; Gregory is quite deft in her genre. It's also an excellent book for the fantasy reader looking to branch out into historical.


S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.