The Other Boleyn Girl tells the story of Mary Boleyn, sister to the infamous Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII. Mary becomes caught up in a series of political intrigues, as her family plots to become more powerful, especially against the Seymour family. Mary gives birth to Henry's child; in the meantime, Anne swoops in to take her place as Henry's mistress.
Serving as backdrop is Henry VIII's court in the 16th century, where Henry and Katherine of Aragon's marriage is coming to an end. Tired of Katherine for not being able to produce a male heir, Henry breaks away from the Catholic Church in England and starts his own, so that he may divorce his wife. Philippa Gregory describes all of this in startling detail, as we watch Anne and Mary Boleyn vie for the King's affection. Power and status is what drives everybody involved. Its a fascinating look into life at court under the reign of Henry VIII.
We get to see what Anne Boleyn was really like. Of course, we've heard stories, but I was amazed to see just what kinds of things she could do. Mary was the best kind of narrator for this novel, as we got to see firsthand the court and its going-ons. We often see Katherine of Aragon depicted in the history books as the frumpy, housfrou; here she becomes a real, genuine, loyal woman, who wouldn't give up her religion, no matter how much she loved her husband. That spoke of real character and courage on her part.
The book takes us up to Anne's beheading. Again dissatisfied with the fact that he does not have a male heir, Henry trumps up charges of adultery against Anne. The ending is frightening, an account of what such a gruesome moment might have been like. It is said that, when the executioner lifted up Anne's head afterwards, the mouth moved. Gregory uses exquisite details to describe this event, and many others throughout the book.
I've read many other works on historical fiction, and none other compares to The Other Boleyn Girl. It is very definitely a book worth reading.