The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory I started reading Philippa Gregory with the Cousins' War series, and I liked those well enough. I didn't understand why all the reviews were so scathing and disappointed.

Well, now I get it. This book is worlds better than PG's most recent books. WORLDS. The characters feel like real people, not like puppets of historical figures. The writing is rich with description and detail. The dialogue is snappier and more natural. Compared to this, her recent books seem flat and uninteresting.

(Which is really a shame, because I love the Wars of the Roses era, while Tudor stuff doesn't interest me quite as much. If anyone knows of great books set in 15th-century England, please let me know.)

This book is the best kind of historical soap opera. There are beheadings, poisonings, possible incest, illicit gay affairs, secret pregnancies, and scandals galore. (I don't much care how accurate it all is, because it makes for great storytelling.) Mary Boleyn makes a great protagonist to witness all of this. While she starts out young, naive, and excited by all the flirting and glamour of the court, she quickly becomes disillusioned when her family uses her as a pawn to get themselves closer to the throne. Her own happiness matters not a bit to any of them, least of all Anne, her sister and rival, who schemes and manipulates her way into the king's favor at any cost.

It takes a long time, since she's naturally obedient and trusting, but eventually Mary develops the confidence to fight for her own happiness, and realizes there are more important things in life than being a Boleyn or being close to the king. Her simple romance and her times at her farmland home provide a welcome contrast to the glitzy, cutthroat world of the royal court. PG's later books could benefit from more depictions of life outside of court and away from royalty, I think, but that's hard to do when you make your protagonist a member of the royal family, as most of the Cousins' War protagonists are.

The heavy-handed foreshadowing that Gregory is so fond of is present in this book, but it doesn't go overboard. I do like the parts when everyone says Anne's baby is worthless because it's a girl. Um, I'm pretty sure that girl will grow up to prove you wrong a hundred times over.