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The White Queen - Philippa Gregory
Member Name: sandemp
The White Queen - Philippa Gregory
Advantages: Great main character, great story
Disadvantages: Inclusion of Melusina, and witchcraft
The year is 1464, England has been torn apart by the Cousin's War and Elizabeth Woodville, armed only with her beauty, throws herself on the mercy of the newly acclaimed King Edward IV, against whom her family had fought. What follows is a tale of love, betrayal, murder, mystery, victory and defeat as Gregory gives us her take on two decades in the tumultuous life of a fascinating and yet little known woman.
Philippa Gregory is perhaps best known for her novels focussing on the Tudor period, taking a strong woman and then retelling the history we all know from her point of view. The White Queen focuses on the period before Henry VII came to power (so beginning the Tudor line), and tells the tale of Elizabeth Woodville (Henry VIII's Grandmother), someone I hadn't actually heard of before reading this, but a woman who had a fascinating part to play in our history.
The White Queen follows the same writing style as many other Gregory novels, allowing the main protagonist to tell their own story. I find this gives a far more personal reading experience and allows me to easily immerse myself in the book. But, and this is a big but, interspersed between the main narrative is the story of Melusina, a fairy tale very similar to The Little Mermaid. While I understand that this is included due to the fact that Elizabeth's maternal family believed themselves to be descended from this water goddess, I found that it would often snap me out of the zone. I personally feel that the book would have read better if Melusina's tale had either been omitted or placed at the end of the book.
As with the majority of Gregory's novels (that I have read), I loved her choice of Elizabeth as her main character. I love the way she takes a strong woman as her lead, especially as woman of that period generally had very little power. While there is plenty to love about Elizabeth, such as her devotion to her husband and children, she's not perfect, which of course makes her far more believable. The very fact that she is a woman in a time where woman had very little power over their own lives means that she is a little power-hungry. I also loved the way that Elizabeth's husband was written, again not perfect but his love for his wife certainly shone through. The other main characters were also well written, I certainly had no trouble imagining all of their interactions.
As for the plot itself, well for obvious reasons it follows a very well defined route, being based on historical figures means that we all know a little of their tale. While much of the history is glossed over I really enjoyed the actual interactions that caused the famous events. The scenes between Elizabeth and Richard are particularly touching, especially in the opening chapters. I didn't really enjoy the inclusion of witchcraft, especially as Gregory appeared to be saying that Elizabeth, her mother and her daughters could actually conjure up storms. Yes I do realise that it was widely believed that Elizabeth and her mother were witches, after all why else would the young King choose to marry an older woman, who was not only a widow but not even a virgin, but to me it felt forced at times.
The one part of Elizabeth's story that we all know at least a little about, is that of her sons, The Princes In The Tower. Little is known about the fate of those two little boys (as in nothing), but Gregory handles the story sensitively and sensibly. I'm not going to spoil the book by telling you the fate Gregory has written for them, but I will say that I was impressed with her reasoning.
While there was plenty of contemporary evidence for Gregory to draw on when writing her Tudor series of books, there was (and is) far less for the Plantagenet period, meaning that she has had to take far more liberties when telling Elizabeth's story (as she readily admits in her author's note). I admit that I have little personal knowledge of the time period, having only briefly covered it in primary school, so I am unable to state whether the book contains any glaring errors, but to me it feels right. After all this is a novel and not a text book and there's nothing that actually shouts at me that it's wrong.
All in all, I found this an enjoyable read, albeit one with a few flaws. I enjoyed the writing style and enjoyed the glimpse into the life of a little known, but historically important woman. This is a book that I am happy to give four stars out of five and recommend to a wide range of different readers. If romance is your thing, then this contains romance, and of course if you enjoy historical novels then you'll enjoy this. As to the age range, well although there is murder and sex, there are no graphical descriptions and I would be happy for a thirteen year to read this (if it's their type of thing).
Summary: A great read, but not one without flaws