Book Review of The Last Boleyn

The Last Boleyn
The Last Boleyn
Author: Karen Harper
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Book Type: Paperback
reviewed on + 48 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1


It was a pleasure to read this book shortly after reading The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory. First, it was much more historically accurate, even to birth order. Historians might disagree as to whether Anne or Mary was older, but all agree that George was the baby of the family. Further, this book (unlike Gregory's) includes the period of Mary Boleyn's life when she was the mistress(? if you want to give that much dignity to the way he treated her) of Francis I of France. But enough about Gregory and more about Harper.

This is the perfect book to read if you wish to know more about Mary Boleyn. It provides a believable empathetic characterization of not only the protagonist, but of the many other people whose lives intersected with hers. It portrays the agonizing choices left to women who lived during a time when kings had virtually complete control over their subjects; and men had basically the same dominating force over the women in their families. Any woman - from the Queen down to the lowest commoner - who tried to usurp this societal order most often paid for their efforts with their lives.

These facts are presented in a manner which clearly illustrates the potential miseries of such a society; but the viewpoints expressed not only by the characters but also the author offer no anachronistic insights or opinions as to the possibility of changing such a system. If and when a woman chose to fight the limitations of her role, her struggle was solely for her own benefit. As unpleasant this may or may not be to the reader, this is a truthful portrayal of how life was at the dawn of the Renaissance. The Boleyn girls received an exceptional education only because of the aspirations of their father. Thomas Boleyn was a willing contributor to the social aspirations of his forefathers and he raised his children according to the lifestyles of the highest nobility.

This was the first of Harper's books that I had read and was definitely not the last. I was so impressed by the accuracy and readability of this book that I sought out more of her work. Some of these books (including this one, I believe) had fallen out of print only to be brought out of retirement in the wake of Gregory's sensational success with TOBG. Oops! I said I wouldn't write more about her and I did. Ah well, score one for the "anxiety of influence."