The Last Boleyn, Karen Harper
I was so happy to finally snag a copy of this off Paperbackswap.com. It was originally published under the title Passion's Reign and is the story of Mary Boleyn, sister to Anne and George. For those of you who have read Philippa Gregory's version The Other Boleyn Girl you are probably going to be a bit surprised at how Harper presents Mary's story. While the basic story is the same, there are differences in some of the details, relationships, and character behavior. I really liked this version of Mary's story. Harper seems to have stayed more within the known facts about Mary's life (little though there is) than Gregory did in her version. While I have nothing against Gregory's version (and I enjoyed it quite a bit) I enjoyed reading something a bit more historically accurate (though of course there are some instances where Harper has taken some liberties but they don't really bother me as Harper hasn't promoted herself as an impeccable historian).
The story starts when Mary is about 8 and learns she is to be sent to France with Princess Mary Tudor. She forms a friendship with Mary that lasts throughout the novel. While in France she meets Leonardo Di Vinci, falls in love with the King, and eventually becomes Francois's mistress. It doesn't turn out how she expected as she's seen as the King's possession and is passed along to his friends. During one of her father's visits to France she meets William Stafford and thus begins their long and slightly rocky relationship. Eventually Mary returns to England, King Henry marries her off to William Carey, and she becomes Henry's mistress. She gives birth to a son but the true identity of the father is unknown. By this time Anne has come to court and caught Henry's eye and Mary has fallen in love with William Stafford, despite still being married to an unloving William. After William dies she and Stafford secretly wed and are able to keep it a secret until she becomes pregnant. When she tells Anne (who has now been Queen for some time) she and Stafford are banished to his manor, which is what they wanted anyway, and they have a peaceful and happy life there.
Mary seems much more worldly and wise in this telling of her story and, based on what happens to her, its no wonder she "grew up quickly." She matures from a naive girl, foolishly thinking that the King of France really loves her, to a young woman who knows when to "cut her losses." Her overwhelming love for her Father and her desire to impress him and make him proud of her influences a lot of her decisions until she is finally able to see that he does not care about her and is only interested in gaining more power. The big eyeopener for Mary is when she sees how her Father is trying to use her son as a pawn with King Henry (though it is asserted throughout this book that his father's identity is uncertain). Once she is able to let go of the devotion to her Father, she is more easily able to make decisions that make her happy and content. She knows she is being used as a pawn by her Father and husband and she hates it; as the story progresses she is able to take more control of her life. I really like Harper's portrayal of Mary (more than Gregory's) because Mary's character seems much stronger, more able to make decisions for herself, while at the same time still a sympathetic character because of the circumstances surrounding her.
Thomas Boleyn seems as ambitious and cruel here but Elizabeth Boleyn's character is much more caring and sympathetic to Mary. George doesn't play nearly as big of a role in this novel as he did in Gregory's version and Anne does come across as a bit more sympathetic. Will Carey's character is hideous and I felt incredibly sorry for Mary since she was stuck with him. King Henry is obviously around but there isn't as much of him and there is only one nice little scene between Mary and Queen Catherine. Mary's second husband, William Stafford, is quite likable, is always there when she needs a shoulder or a hand, and is quite wise in the ways of the Court and politics. While I liked Staff's character he sometimes comes across as a bit too perfect.
Overall it was a good book that I would highly recommend, especially to those that have read The Other Boleyn Girl and would like to see another version of the story. If you are looking for a book that has a lot about Anne in it, I wouldn't suggest this one as it is truly about Mary's life.