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The Boleyn Inheritance    by Philippa Gregory order for
Boleyn Inheritance
by Philippa Gregory
Order:  USA  Can
Touchstone, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Lisa Respers France

For fans of historical fiction, the books of Philippa Gregory are one of England's greatest exports. The Boleyn Inheritance continues her winning streak of compelling dramatic novels. The latest, a sweeping epic which takes up where 2004's The Other Boleyn Girl left off, is ambitious in its multiple points of view.

Here, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Jane Rochford are caught in the mother of all soap operas in Tudor England. Anne is shipped from her native country to marry Henry VIII who has already dispatched three wives, one via divorce, another by beheading and the third by seeming disinterest in her medical condition following the birth of his heir. Escaping a carping mother and a hard hearted brother who has long tormented her, Anne is at first hopeful of her future as the new Queen of England. That is until her first meeting with her kingly husband goes horribly wrong when he disguises himself to surprise her and she fails to recognize him. 'When he grabbed me and kissed me, the stink of him was truly awful. When he fell back from me, he looked like a spoiled child, ready to cry. But I must be fair, that was a bad moment for both of us. I daresay, as I thrust him away from me, that I did not appear at my best either. I wish to God I had not spat.'

Taking advantage of the couple's rocky beginning and subsequent incompatibility, air headed lady in waiting Katherine Howard is coached by her uncle and Jane Rochford to capture the king's eye. Despite the fact that her kinswoman, Anne Boleyn, fell hard from grace and lost her head playing the coquette to King Henry, Katherine steps up to the plate as the next queen when Anne of Cleves is dispatched. The new union is equally doomed as the royal once dubbed 'the handsomest man in all of Christendom' is now old enough to be Katherine's grandfather, gaseous and ailing from a putrid wound. Passionate Katherine, who ran wild with the boys prior to her marriage and is more concerned with how many dresses and jewels she can amass, soon gives in to the impulses of her 16-year-old libido and betrays her husband.

Bearing witness to the unfolding drama is key player Jane (Boleyn) Rochford who is battling her own demons. She must live daily with the knowledge that it was her misguided attempt at saving her husband George and her testimony against him and his beloved sister Anne which led to their downfall and executions. 'Dear God, she knew that I betrayed her. Dear God, he went to a traitor's death on the scaffold knowing that I betrayed him. He perhaps did not realize that it was from love.' Back in favor after the scandal of Anne Boleyn, Jane now has the charge to watch over and guide Katherine in her dangerous game of trying to keep the cantankerous king happy while balancing her own youthful escapades. Not an easy setting for Jane who is haunted by the ghosts of her past which seem to inhabit the rooms of the palace.

Juggling three distinct narratives is not an easy task, but Gregory pulls it off with aplomb. It matters not that parts of these story have already been tackled by other authors. The Boleyn Inheritance is filled with tension, drama, betrayal, politics, lust and greed. It's a delicious romp.

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