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Book Cover Image: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

Title:  The White Queen

Author:  Philippa Gregory

No. of Pages:  455

First Released:  2009

Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):  “BROTHER TURNS ON BROTHER to win the ultimate prize, the throne of England, in this dazzling account of the wars of the Plantagenets. They are the claimants and kings who ruled England before the Tudors, and now Philippa Gregory brings them to life through the dramatic and intimate stories of the secret players: the indomitable women, starting with Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.

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. From her uniquely qualified perspective, Philippa Gregory explores this most famous unsolved mystery of English history, informed by impeccable research and framed by her inimitable storytelling skills.”

Comments and Critique:  Delving into any of Ms. Gregory’s novels is like visiting a good friend.  One partially knows what to expect but the exact details remain unknown, lending an air of anticipation to the proceedings.  With Ms. Gregory, the main character is going to be a strong female lead.  While the main historical backdrop may be familiar, one knows that Ms. Gregory will find a way to twist the details of the historical period in such a way that heightens the tension.  The White Queen follows this formula perfectly and yet still retains the ability to entertain and thrill readers.

The White Queen is the first novel of a three-part arc regarding the Cousins’ War, or as Americans are taught in history class the War of the Roses.  While most Gregory fans know that she does not always maintain historical accuracy in her novels, The White Queen follows the trend of giving enough detail to be able to paint a fairly accurate picture of what life was like during this time.  The reader gets a clear understanding of the fuedal system and what it meant to be a peasant during the Cousins’ War – having to maintain an allegiance to the feudal lord, even if that lord changes after every battle, or having to go fight in battle because the owner of the land says so.  It was a treacherous time; the political atmosphere is intriguing in that the nobility think nothing of drawing swords to gain more political power.  Can you imagine today’s politicians doing the same?  

The love shared between Elizabeth and Edward has been well-documented, even if it is the makings of a stereotypical fairy tale.  Even though Ms. Gregory took liberties by filling in the blanks behind their courtship and secret marriage, this part of the story is truly the highlight of the novel.  Elizabeth and Edward together are so sweet and so caring about each other.  It is refreshing to know that monarchs truly did marry for love every once in a while.

Historians have documented Elizabeth as power-hungry and a bit of a despot, as well as a witch.  Interestingly enough, while Ms. Gregory chose to portray Elizabether as a much more sympathetic figure in history, there still remains a coldness to her that implies that need for power.  She is truly the most ambitious of her entire family and takes whatever steps she deems necessary to obtain, then maintain that power.  The references to her mythological ancestry and to her powers belies her strength of character.   Yet, it is also a testament to her belief in her power and her status as the most beloved queen in England that she felt comfortable enough to show her powers in front of others while knowing that she could be taken and tried for being a witch at any point in time.   Elizabeth Woodville is definitely a study of contrasts, and Ms. Gregory does a stellar job of portraying this.

The White Queen does not have the lushness and sensuality of her Tudor novels, yet because this is such a different era, the reader cannot find a fault with this.  Given the political turmoil of the time, the focus on the political machinations and power struggles behind the Crown are necessary for true understanding of Elizabeth’s decisions and conflicts.  Overall, The White Queen is a strong beginning to an intriguing new series.  Fans of Ms. Gregory will not be disappointed.  Better yet, those who have not yet enjoyed one of Ms. Gregory’s stories will be drawn to the unique subject matter with its political intrigue and touching love story.  The White Queen is definitely one to be enjoyed by all.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster UK for the free review copy!

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