Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

Title: The White Queen
Author: Philippa Gregory
ISBN: 9781847374561, Simon & Schuster UK Ltd., 2009
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: A

First Line: My father is Sir Richard Woodville, Baron Rivers, an English nobleman, a landholder and a supporter of the true kings of England, the Lancastrian line.

This is the first entry in a new historical series by Gregory centering on the English War of the Roses. My "history" with Philippa Gregory has been a bit uneven. Some of her novels I've enjoyed a great deal, others didn't do much for me. I am not a purist when it comes to reading historical fiction. I always pick up a book in this genre believing that the story will take precedence over the history. As long as there are no glaring errors that throw me out of the story, I am content.

What really makes the world go round? No matter how much we may sing about it or want it, it's certainly not love. No, what makes the world go round are greedy, grasping individuals/families/clans whose thoughts seldom rise from the rut of "I, Me, Mine". A case in point is The White Queen. Gregory tells us of the world as seen through the eyes of Elizabeth Woodville, a young widow whose beauty captivated King Edward IV. As you read, never once forget that Elizabeth's view of her world is a distorted one.

Did you read the first sentence of the book above? From the very first, Elizabeth is shown as a woman who is supremely concerned with position and wealth. When she stood out in the road to wait for the king to ride by, she was merely wanting her husband's lands restored so she wouldn't have to live on the charity of others. When she saw the look on Edward's face, she immediately knew that, if she played her cards right, she might very well obtain a lot more.

Does it sound like I didn't like Elizabeth? It should, because I didn't. When she becomes Queen of England, she and her mother busy themselves giving everyone in the family important positions and power. That's the way it's always been done. They laugh when they marry off young male relatives to old wealthy widows so that they can inherit vast estates and further the family's ambitions. Never once did they seem to think that this behavior would have any repercussions.

When sending her three-year-old son to Wales (the Tudor stronghold), Elizabeth appoints her brother Anthony as the boy's chief advisor. What are her first words about this to her brother? Are they about keeping her little boy safe? Are they about his education, his diet, his happiness? No. "Anthony, there is much profit to be won from Wales." It is to Anthony's credit that, when he accepts the position, he speaks of the little boy and his well-being.

At her husband's death bed, Elizabeth's thoughts are not on losing Edward, but the best way to get her choice as Lord Protector of England accepted.

She calls herself a realist and her brother, Anthony, a dreamer, but Anthony is the one who sees the truth in the court of Elizabeth and Edward. Anthony is the character that I like in this book. He says the symbol of the House of York should not be the white rose, but the old sign of eternity-- the snake eating itself. "They are a house which has to have blood and they will shed their own if they have no other enemy."

Given that I've already admitted to not liking the main character, you'll be forgiven if you think I didn't like the book. But if you saw my rating at the top, you know that's not so. I don't have to like the main character to enjoy the book. All I ask is that the main character is multi-faceted and interesting. Elizabeth is certainly both those things. She is strong-willed, knows exactly what she wants, and grabs for it with both hands-- ultimately bringing disaster down upon her entire family.

There has been talk of Elizabeth and her mother, Jacquetta, using magic several times in the book. Gregory walked a very fine line throughout but in the end, she didn't overplay the magic for me. What did irritate me was the habit Elizabeth had of always referring to the sons of her first marriage as her "Grey sons". But a woman as conscious of wealth, power and position as she would do that. After all, those boys weren't as important as her sons by the King of England-- the Princes in the Tower.

This is a very strong start to Gregory's new series. I certainly look forward to reading the other books as they are published.

*Advance Reader's Copy supplied by Simon & Schuster UK.


  1. I like your assessment of this book. I've seen lots of hype for it but not a good evaluation. It's interesting that the main character is not likeable but the entire book is rated A. Not the way it usually goes for me and the books I read. I may have to check this out just to see what you are talking about.

  2. I really must bump this one up to the top of the pile... Sounds sooooo good.

  3. This sounds like great read. I don't think I'd like Elizabeth either. But if that doesn't break the book...I'm in.

  4. I can understand why you didn't like the book, if I don't like the main character I have trouble liking the book

  5. Margot--I've read other reviews of the book, and I found it interesting that other readers saw the alluring, loving Elizabeth. Just goes to show how layered and skillful Gregory's characterization is.

    Beth--It *is* good. I hope you enjoy it, too, when you read it.

    Serena--It didn't break the book for me. Hopefully it won't for you either.

    Blodeuedd--But I *did* like the book! There's so much to it that, even though I didn't like the main character, I still enjoyed the book--the mark of an accomplished writer!

  6. Elizabeth does sound like quite a character! I think I'm the only one who didn't get this book! Your review is outstanding.

  7. Great review, Cathy. I appreciate that you emphasize that you didn't like the main character (Elizabeth), but you loved the book. This can happen, and it's a sign of a well-written book!

  8. Nice review - I appreciate the honest comments about Elizabeth. I had this book on my TBR list and am pleased to read a detailed review - it is still on my list!

  9. How interesting that you didn't like Elizabeth but still liked the book! That so rarely happens for me. I liked this Elizabeth much more than I've liked other fictional versions of her in the past.

  10. Kathy--I think there are a few more besides you who didn't get this book! LOL I did decide to be different and show the UK cover since I received my ARC from the UK.

    Dawn--Exactly! Some people don't quite understand that concept, although I must admit that it doesn't happen all that often.

    Cathy-- I'm glad it's still on your list. It *is* a very good book!

    Meghan-- Elizabeth Woodville is one of those women in history who tend to be treated very shabbily. That's what happens when a female knows what she wants.


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