The Last Boleyn
. (Prev. pub. as Passion’s Reign, Kensington, 1983)
Mary Boleyn, Anne’s long-eclipsed sister, has lately had her own surge of popularity (see Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl). This reprint has been repackaged to make it seem less like a romance (the cover now sports Holbein’s placid portrait of Mary), but appearances notwithstanding, a rather sedate romance is exactly what it is. Those looking for cerebral or even well-researched historical plot won’t find it here. What they will find is court intrigue and clichéd, brawny male love interests. Clothing often takes center stage; a courtier can’t walk into the room without the plot screeching to a halt in favor of informing the reader of what he’s wearing, down to the very ribbons on his codpiece. Harper’s characterization of Mary is a far cry from the “great whore, the most infamous of them all,” as François I is alleged to have remarked of the real Mary. This Mary is imminently sympathetic, an innocent pawn of her father and others. Sure, she’s a courtesan, but Harper goes to great lengths to present her as, if not exactly unwilling, at least not infamous. The romance itself is tepid, and readers would do better to skip this in favor of Gregory’s offering.