September 6, 2009

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory Review

After showcasing as many Tudor royals as any one reader can comfortably stomach, Philippa Gregory strives to show us another English Royal family as equally interesting. The White Queen launches her War of the Roses trilogy, and focuses on Elizabeth Woodville. Gregory’s Woodville falls instantly in love with the King, and she ascends the throne at a dangerous time of civil war. An incredibly cut throat period in which each claimant to the throne has a much right as the next, and the alliances of the Great Families of England are always shifting. We soon learn that no one, especially your own family can be trusted in noble England. Elizabeth and Edward’s union makes instant enemies, and the entirety of their marriage will be spent on defending the throne.

In my opinion, while this novel is good, it is not as good as either Boleyn book chiefly because I felt that I understood those characters. In The White Queen, Elizabeth is painted as complacent and dutiful wife during the first half of the novel, and ambitious shrew during the second. Towards the end it becomes a Woodville on the throne at any cost which may have been historically accurate, but it didn’t fit with Elizabeth’s established persona up until then. Elizabeth also believes she is the descendent from a water goddess from a fairy tale which Gregory interrupts literally, and that tale is interspersed with Elizabeth’s tale although they don’t quite connect. The tenses also shift from Elizabeth’s first person to assumedly Elizabeth’s first person describing battle details as they happen which doesn’t make sense and is jarring.

However, the book is still one of Gregory’s best. As always the story is instantly gripping. You are immediately immersed in the Woodville family, and their struggles to advance their family while ensuring security for Edward’s reign. Gregory does a great job of fleshing out a family that has been villanized by history, and presenting their side of the story. And even those who know the inevitable outcome will be surprised by Gregory’s take. Gregory doesn’t attempt to pander for sympathy to Elizabeth’s plight and instead gives us as even a portrayal of Elizabeth as the historical records afford. And Elizabeth’s relationship to her own daughter (also Elizabeth) is easily my favorite element of the novel, this relationship is almost portrayed as Elizabeth wrestling with her own conscience which is not only brilliant but expertly builds interest for the next two books in the series.

Gregory’s books are one of my guiltiest and most anticipated literary pleasures. This book was no exception. Gregory fans and first time readers who enjoy the genre will want to puck it up immediately and will count down the days until her next book in the series, The Red Queen. Moderate fans may want to wait for the paperback.

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