Friday, August 26, 2011

Review: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

The White Queen (Cousins' War, #1)The White Queen tells the story of a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition who, catching the eye of the newly crowned boy king, marries him in secret and ascends to royalty. While Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for the success of her family, her two sons become central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the missing princes in the Tower of London whose fate is still unknown.

The White Queen is the first in Gregory's War of the Roses series and I liked it even more than her Tudor books. The main reason for that is that this book isn't straightforward historical fiction, there's a bit of fantasy there too and I enjoy fantasy tremendously. The fantasy elements are based on the fact that the real Elizabeth Woodville and her mother were accused of witchcraft and believed themselves to be the descendants of Melusina, a European river goddess, but Gregory takes it a step further in tying the women's unconventional actions into the plot in a way that gives the novel a flavor the other books don't have. There's nothing that can be positively identified as witchcraft, just some remarkable coincidences, but the way Gregory tells it there's always the "what if" in the back of the reader's mind. The legend of Melusina itself is told in pieces throughout the book and in echoing the mood and theme of the particular section it amplifies the effect of magic permeating the story.
I'm already used to Gregory's characters being strong and vivid while at the same time very human and I enjoy getting to know them even if I can't relate to them. Edward IV is a king who sees the big picture and has his country and the future of his family in the forefront of his thoughts at all times. On the day of his wedding to Elizabeth he's already thought about and put plans into place to prepare for all eventualities. Elizabeth's mother is an absolutely remarkable character and I'm glad that we got to see some of her. Strong, intelligent, with her eye on the prize at all times but not hard and cold. I look forward to reading The Lady of the Rivers when it comes out later this year because she will be at the center of that novel. Elizabeth herself is a woman to the tips of her fingernails. She inherited her mother's cleverness and her father's temperament and with time became the matriarch looking out for her family's future, able to look the other way when the matter wasn't serious enough and to demand what she wanted when she believed that her position was threatened.
There's only one thing that made it difficult to keep track of the plot and detracted from the experience: everybody seemed to be Elizabeth, Edward, George, Robert, Richard and Margaret. When there's several of each in every family you know it's time to come up with some new names, just to make talking about each other easier, if for no other reason. But what can you do, that's the way things were.
Gregory gets criticized a lot for not making her novels historically accurate and while I'm no history buff and can't agree or disagree with the critics I can say that her fiction flows naturally and whatever liberties she takes with the facts don't appear to be to the story's detriment. It is fiction after all, and very good fiction at that.


  1. I listened to this on audio and enjoyed it too, although I didn't like the fantasy elements as much as you did. Are you going to read The Red Queen?

  2. Most definitely! I'm totally hooked on Gregory's books and look forward to catching up on the other novels in both her Tudor and Plantagenet series.