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Saturday, August 29, 2009

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

Series: The Cousins War Book 1

Genre: Historical Fiction

Copyright: 2009

Pages: 411

Rating 4 1/2 Crown

The first in a stunning new series, The Cousins War, is set amid the tumult and intrigue of The War of the Roses. Internationally bestselling author Philippa Gregory brings this family drama to colourful life through its women, beginning with the story of Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.
The White Queen tells the story of a common woman who ascends to royalty by virtue of her beauty, a woman who rises to the demands of her position and fights tenaciously for the success of her family, a woman whose two sons become the central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the Princes in the Tower whose fate remains unknown to this day. www.philippagregory.com

Philippa Gregory's skill as a storyteller is renowned and The White Queen proves no exception. Ms Gregory takes a fascinating period in history, with powerful historical figures and weaves a compelling and intriguing tale. I found the Plantagenets and the House of York just as interesting, if not more so than the Tudors, possibly because I'm less read in this time period but also because this truly is an enthralling story.

The White Queen is told through the eyes of Elizabeth Woodville, a widow of the House of Lancaster with 2 sons to her first husband, Sir John Grey. Elizabeth, reputably one of the most beautiful women of this time, catches the eye, and the heart of King Edward IV and a secret marriage follows as Elizabeth refuses to be the York king's mistress.

Without giving too much away, this is where treachery & betrayal really come into play. Elizabeth's reputation as Edward's acknowledged queen is not aided by her dabbling in witchcraft & as she understandably promotes her family and their postion, resentment grows. The York faction fight not only the Lancastrians but turn on each other, alliances are made and broken & when Elizabeth & Edward's sons are born the treachery reaches an all new level. King Edward's brothers, George, the turn-coat (boy did I loathe him) & eventually loyal Richard become players in an ongoing battle for the crown.

“Edward lives as if there is no tomorrow, Richard as if he wants no tomorrow, and George as though someone should give it to him for free.”
comment from Anthony to his sister Elizabeth Woodville.

I really enjoyed Gregory's portrayal of Elizabeth as a devoted mother, loving & faithful wife and if not entirely likeable, then strong, & spirited. I think like many strong, passionate women in history, Elizabeth Woodville is much maligned by her detractors to encourage prejudice that has remained throughout history. Yes she becomes vengeful & spiteful, especially when employing her "pagan tricks" but considering the circumstances it would probably have taken a saint, not to.

There were a few places in the novel that read like a recounting of events, a little lacking in emotion but what I loved about The White Queen is Philippa Gregory's use of literary licence. I was enthralled by the author's characterisations, the use of the legend of Melusine, & her take on the fate of Edward & Richard, the Princes in the tower. Shrouded in contradictions and speculation, an unsolved mystery to this day, I believe Philippa Gregory's scenario is quite plausible.

Once again the author's notes are a helpful addition, letting the reader know what parts of the story are fact or based on fact and what's ficticious. My suggestion to keep track of the complex relationships is to check out the family tree of the Houses of York, Lancaster & Tudor in the front of the novel or print out the family tree from Philippa Gregory's website. I found it helpful to keep this & a list of Elizabeth & Edward's children with me so I wasn't completely bamboozled by the generations of Edwards, Richards, & Georges. (12 children is quite a feat, 10 to Edward, not all of which are mentioned in the book and 2 Grey sons)

Don't miss this one, it's a great introduction to the War of the Roses period for both the uninitiated & fans of historical fiction. I now have a newly acquired craving to learn more about this era and I can't wait to see what's in store for us with The Red Queen and The White Princess. Visit Philippa Gregory's website to find out more.

Thank you to Katrina from Wiredset for this review copy.

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Visit Sheree at her blog The Eclectic Reader.


Alaine said...

Fantastic review Sheree! Looking forward to finishing this book.

ibeeeg said...

Wonderful review!
I have actually been sitting on the fence about reading this one. I read The King's Daughter which did not paint Elizabeth Woodville in good light. After reading your review, I am now curious.
I will put this one on my goodreads to-read list.

Lucy said...

I'll be reading this one very soon..and your review paints such an exciting read that I just can't wait to get to it. Excellent review, thanks:)

Jennifer said...

This has been on my TBR list and I have been desperately trying to win a copy, s my TBR list is long. Thank you for a well written review.

Judy said...

Very interesting review. This sounds like something I would enjoy. I enjoy historicals, especially about real people.

Teddyree said...

Alaine ~ thanks, I'm sure you'll love it.

ibeeeg ~ I haven't read The King's Daughter yet but after reading The White Queen I'm now craving more from this time period. I think PG's take on Elizabeth Woodville is very fair, not a saint but not a shrew either.

Ms Lucy ~ Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Jennifer ~ I love Philippa Gregory's books and this one's definitely a winner in my humble opionion :-)

Judy ~ This wasn't a time in history I knew a lot about, so it was a very enlightening read.