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Review: The White Queen, by Philippa Gregory

The White Queen opens in 1464, on the day that Elizabeth Woodville meets Edward IV, the man who has just recently been crowned King of England. In the attempt to gain back the lands she lost when her husband died, Elizabeth catches the eye of the young king, and becomes Queen of England herself—and eventually, the mother of kings and queens of England.

I have mixed feelings about this book.

Here’s what I didn’t like so much:
--The fact that the book is written in the present tense. Gregory started writing this way sometime around The Boleyn Inheritance, and it gets on my nerves sometimes because I feel that using the present tense for historical fiction is so limiting.
--The water imagery got to be a bit much-too-much at times. It was beautiful at first, but the fact that Elizabeth kept talking about her ancestress, the water goddess/nymph Melusina, began to get tired after a while.
--Although Gregory is great in general at describing the events of the time periods of which she writes, she’s not so good as describing how people actually lived—as with her previous novels, there’s very little about what her characters wear, eat, or do in their free time. It’s the little bits and pieces that make characters come to life, make them three-dimensional.
--Reading Sharon Kay Penman has seemingly made me pro-Richard III for life, so I was a little disappointed by Gregory’s vilification of him in the book (though of course, when the story is told from the point of view of Elizabeth Woodville, of course Richard would be portrayed in a negative light).
--About halfway through the book, Gregory switches from 1st person POV to 3rd, in order to talk about some of the decisive battles of the Wars. I can understand her intent, but it was jarring to me to go back and forth.

However, I think The White Queen is a vast improvement over Gregory’s previous book, The Other Queen. Elizabeth is much more of a three-dimensional character, as are the other people that populate the novel. I was also a lot more engaged by the story—mostly because the story of the War of the Roses is more interesting than that of Mary, Queen of Scot’s captivity! Elizabeth generally has a bad rep, but here she comes across as a sympathetic woman, strong and courageous at a time when the times moved against her. Gregory uses her imagination a lot more in this novel, because there’s so much less documentation to work from. I think it’s a good thing that Gregory has moved away from writing about the Tudors (at least for the time being); the Plantagenets are a breath of breath air on Gregory’s writing, which was in the process of getting stale.

Also reviewed by: The Literate Housewife Review, Books 'N Border Collies, S Krishna's Books, Tanzanite's Shelf, Peeking Between the Pages, Devourer of Books, Shh I'm Reading, The Tome Traveller's Weblog, Books i Done Read


dolleygurl said…
I haven't had the chance to read this yet. I won it in a giveaway and it hasn't arrived yet. But I'm very interested in seeing how my opinions pair up with yours. Good review.
Marie Burton said…
I understand your feelings, and echo the Water thing. It wan't too much to be wall-banging but enough for me to say ok enough already..
And definitely a VAST improvement over The Other Queen, which was dull for me because I had read so many better Queen of Scots interpretations. I enjoyed the Woodville's portrayal here and wish there were more of it. The way that Anthony was written made me want to look for more books on him in particular. I also wished that the Grey boys were treated better in the novel, they did get some time but there were times when it only seemed that the princes were the only boys she had.
OK I'll stop now =) Thanks for your thoughts!
teabird said…
I'm yearning to read this book, despite the "liked it but --" reviews I've seen.
(Just that beautiful cover would do it for me!)
Good review!
Meghan said…
Is it wrong of me to say that I skimmed most of the Melusina bits? I probably should have mentioned that in my review, but I completely forgot I had done so until right now.

The present tense also got on my nerves a little. I found that Gregory told the story well enough that I could forget it was there for a while, but it did take a minute every time I went back to it. As a consequence the next book I read, also in present tense, annoyed me even more! I don't think 1st person present is the best choice for historical novels in which the main character is in sanctuary a lot of the time.

I'm not really pro Richard III these days, so I can't say that bothered me this time, and I liked that he wasn't a total villain, just a little bit of a bastard. I think she's intending to make it so Henry VII engineered the death of the princes, which lightens it up a little. Overall this is definitely an improvement!

Meghan @ Medieval Bookworm
Anonymous said…
i've been waiting for this one--i didn't read any of gregory's other books but do want to dip my toes into historical fiction and thought this might be a place to start. maybe i'll look around a bit more.. :)

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