Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings
by Alison Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Mary Boleyn / 9780345521354
"Mary Boleyn" is a difficult book to review because at several points while reading it, I longed to just put it down and walk away, and yet I couldn't quite bring myself to stop reading.
This isn't a historical romance; it's a non-fiction scholarly biography about a historical figure about which so little is known that she almost serves as a Rorschach test for novelists. Alison Weir has then come along behind to carefully and thoughtfully strip away all the fiction and expose the tiny kernel of truth that we absolutely know about Mary Boleyn.
If you have an interest in the historical Mary Boleyn, or in the Boleyn family in general, there is a wealth of information here. Weir has carefully included previous work, taking pains to show what was really true and what was merely guesswork on the part of others. Whenever Weir is forced by lack of evidence to speculate on the historical gaps in Mary's life, she does so clearly and plainly, and always carefully marks out what is speculation and what is fact. As a non-fiction historical biography, this book stands out for its thorough research and accessible documentation -- each chapter has almost one hundred footnotes, and they're easily navigable in the e-Book version I reviewed.
If this book has flaws, it is perhaps with the pacing and a few minor narrative choices. The pacing is not really so much Weir's fault; Mary spent much of her life in quiet obscurity and there are swathes of her life where there is not very much of interest to report. These are the places where I was tempted to put down the book and walk away, but Weir writes so well of her subject matter that I kept with it.
There are a few minor choices, though, that made the narrative hard to follow in some places; the one that comes to mind is when Weir begins to refer to Mary's father, Thomas Boleyn, by his peerage name "Wiltshire". This is, I understand, traditional and accurately reflects how he would have been known to his peers, but the change is jarring in a story that already has a good many characters to keep track of. It's a minor quibble, but I would have preferred a little more transparency there somehow. Overall, though, I recommend this book -- if you can sample and enjoy the first chapter, then I am sure you will like the full piece.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll
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