The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

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The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Satisfying epic centring on a much-maligned figure of the Wars of the Roses - Elizabeth Woodville. Gregory manages to make her flawed but charismatic and contemporary but not anachronistic. A must for fans of romantic historical fiction.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: August 2009
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 1847374557

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It's 1464 and a young widow stands at the side of the road, clutching the hands of her two young sons, waiting for the new King to ride past. She is Elizabeth Woodville and the King is Edward IV. What happens is a matter of history: a secret marriage, a shocking reveal, and a vicious contest for the young King's ear (and purse) that forces civil war to drag on in England for much longer than perhaps it would have. Without this meeting, English history would have been critically different.

Elizabeth Woodville is a much-maligned figure from history. Older than Edward IV, of relatively lowly birth, wearing the wrong colour rose, and a widow to boot, she was never going to be welcomed into the bright new Yorkist future after the Battle of Towton. She and her mother were rumoured to be witches and they were certainly ruthlessly ambitious.

I liked this take on her - from Gregory's pages, Elizabeth arises as a flawed but charismatic woman, fixated on shoring up her family's position. But her faults are tempered by an understanding of the insecurity of the times and a genuine and sensual love affair with the handsome Plantagenet king. The supernatural element is skilfully woven into the narrative - Elizabeth thinks she has paranormal abilities, but the reader is left to decide whether to believe her as narrator, or to take it as we generally do today - coincidence and part and parcel of superstitious times.

No stranger to controversy, Gregory refrains from definitively fingering the murderer of the Princes in the Tower, but she does enjoy another poke at historical orthodoxy in her telling. She also sets us up for another minority view theory in later volumes of this series. It's good to see she hasn't been put off this sort of thing by the criticisms of inaccuracies in The Other Boleyn Girl. It's fiction, for heavens sakes!

But Gregory's real skill doesn't lie in championing historical conspiracy theories - it lies in the way her characters are absolutely credible inhabitants of their times - there's no anachronism at all really - yet her novels maintain such a contemporary flavour, of interest to women of today. She is careful to create strong, compelling female characters with whom twenty-first century readers can develop a true fellow feeling.

It's written in the first person, often away from the centre of the action, so The White Queen is a very intimate read, and a very feminine one too. It's thoroughly absorbing and I enjoyed it immensely. It's a must for fans of romantic historical fiction.

My thanks to the nice people at Simon & Schuster for sending the book.

Those interested in the Wars of the Roses and their aftermath could look away from fiction and at Alison Weir's wonderful The Princes In The Tower. Those looking for a really superior read set a little bit later in Tudor times will love The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett. If you're in the market for something really unusual, go for Kings of Albion by Julian Rathbone.

Booklists.jpg The White Queen by Philippa Gregory is in the Top Ten Books For Your Girlfriend.

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