The Boleyn King - Laura Andersen I really enjoyed this book for a number of reasons, and not for the very least because I love historical novels or the fact it has "Boleyn" in the title. Within the genre, books involving European monarchies are usually among my favorites and it's always hard to resist any story involving the lives of Henry VIII and his wives, so you can imagine how my interest was immediately piqued.

Except with this book, there's a twist. Whether or not that's good or bad will depend on what kind of historical fiction reader you are. For myself, I typically don't mind reading historical novels that include a fantasy element or touch of something different, so in a way this was right up my alley. In the case of The Boleyn King, the thing to know is that it is an alternate history, a re-imagined account of what might have happened if certain events hadn't played out the way they had.

In fact, I thought the main idea behind the book was quite an interesting and very creative one. It basically asks: What if Anne Boleyn did not miscarry in 1536, but actually gave birth to a son, the male heir Henry VIII so desperately wanted? The boy grows up to be Henry IX, also known as William. Though he is young, all signs are pointing to William becoming a good and competent king, but his reign is put to the test when conspiracy invades his court and war with the French looms on the horizon. Despite being watched over by Anne and her brother the regent Lord Rochford, William only trusts three people in his life: his older sister Elizabeth, his best friend Dominic, and his mother's young ward Minuette.

This is not your typical historical novel. The setting as well as some of the characters are real, but that's pretty much where it ends. It's not so much a book depicting actual events or the perspectives of historical persons than it is one giant "What if?" scenario, so the author has a lot of freedom to do some very neat things with the story and characters without the usual constraints, and her re-imagined history and characterization of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn's son is a very intriguing one.

It also made me realize the story has so much potential. The Boleyn King is only the first book of a trilogy, so I'm looking forward to seeing what else has been planned for the setting and characters, especially if Laura Andersen decides to give more involvement to actual historical persons and events. So far, much of the plot has been given to romance, but there's also the mystery, intrigue and politics that she established and I would very much love to see that those aspects get as much attention as the relationship details in future books. Since I think this is shaping up to be a historical romance series, I think the author struck a very good balance. Like I said, the idea has so much potential, and while I enjoy the romantic drama, I just wouldn't want to see it overshadow everything else she has set up here.

I think the untapped potential also exists for the characters. Right now, my feelings for them are somewhat mixed. The story is told through the perspectives of the "Four Stars": William, Elizabeth, Dominic, and Minuette. I like William, though I think his characterization could stand to go a bit further than just your teenage king full of youthful arrogance and bravado who longs to prove himself, but I have a feeling that will develop more as his character matures in future books. Dominic feels like the familiar romantic young adult hero, whose honor and pride prevents him from telling the woman he loves how he feels, which leads to a lot of brooding and pining on his part. I might have been more frustrated with the slew of relationship conflicts that arise from this, if I hadn't been so busy sympathizing with him the whole time.

Elizabeth is my favorite, but I noticed that in this book she is very similar to a lot of the other depictions of her in historical fiction -- serious, austere, and collected. Now, I can understand why the author would do that for a someone like, say, Anne Boleyn, who is often characterized as sharp and crafty because of her reputation, so it's just going with the grain by portraying her like that too. But in an alternate history where King Henry VIII gets his son by Anne, I figured that spending her life growing up alongside a boisterous little brother who is heir apparent might have had a greater effect on Elizabeth's personality.

Once again I'm just contemplating at the potential for something more, but it's really not that big a deal since I still really enjoyed Elizabeth's character overall. In contrast, I did not care for Minuette at all. She's a little too idealized for my tastes, a bit too perfect. It seems everyone loves her sweet, kind nature, no one at court is immune to her charms, the men in the book are tripping over themselves and each other for her affections, and all of them are like, "What would we ever do without our darling Minuette?" Her character was too much for me, too many pros, not enough cons, and I just would prefer it if she'd been a little more balanced.

The way things are going though, I think the characters will probably grow on me in the next book, because I already know I'll be picking it up when it comes out. This was a very creative idea for a historical novel and I'm really curious to see what it'll lead to and how far it will go. Alternate history stories are often filled with imagination and wishful thinking, but I find pondering "what could have been" can also be quite entertaining and a lot of fun.

Note: received ARC from a giveaway.