Aug 3, 2009

Book Review & Giveaway: "The White Queen" by Phillippa Gregory


"The White Queen: The Cousins War" by Phillippa Gregory
Read An Excerpt
Cover is of my ARC (a big thank you to Ally at Simon & Schuster!) I don't really care for the current release's cover.
The second and third books in the anticipated series are tentatively titled The Red Queen (Margaret Beaufort) and The White Princess (Elizabeth of York).

Published August 18th 2009 by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster
Hardcover, 416 pages
The Burton Review Rating: 4 stars
Book Description:

THE COUSINS' WAR Book One:
Philippa Gregory, "the queen of royal fiction," presents the first of a new series set amid the deadly feuds of England known as the Wars of the Roses.
Brother turns on brother to win the ultimate prize, the throne of England, in this dazzling account of the wars of the Plantagenet's. 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."

Phillippa Gregory does it again! All the possible controversial theories are utilised here in this work of The Wars of The Roses and shall be used for fodder by history enthusiasts. Phillippa Gregory is one of those authors that you either love or hate. Those that are very particular about sticking to the known facts regarding Anne Boleyn dislike her for what she says happened in "The Other Boleyn Girl". And then the movie came out and that took even more liberties (not Gregory's fault) and there was a mini revolt on Facebook against Gregory which was fun to watch. I must say that "The Other Boleyn Girl" is exactly what got me hooked on historical fiction last year, probably about February of 2008. And there was no turning back. I googled Henry VIII and bought more books, from non-fiction to fiction all about the Tudor Era. I then read Gregory's "The Constant Princess" and "The Queen's Fool" and enjoyed those. I got a little burnt out on Gregory once I read last year's "The Other Queen"; I did not like some of the insinuations that were made about Mary Queen of Scots in her attempt to spice up her dull writing. STILL.. I have a soft spot for her since she was the jumping off point to this passion I now hold for historical fiction. The fact that I know the family tree of Henry VIII and potential successors to the throne during his reign would probably fascinate and bore those that know me outside of this book blog world. It's my little secret, and I owe it all to Phillippa Gregory.
Just as there are myths and rumors that have been debated about regarding Mary and Anne Boleyn of The Other Boleyn Girl, there have also been many different theories regarding Elizabeth Woodville. Most historians now seem to agree that without proof of things such as Elizabeth and her mother being witches, there is no reason to discuss it further because of the lack of logical proof. But with this novel, it is all opened back up and historians again will have a field day denying all the insinuations that Gregory makes with this new novel. Gregory even has a YouTube video discussing this Witchcraft topic. For this particular novel we are treated to historical fiction where the author has taken all of her available information and used her creative spin to twist the facts into something more pleasing then a text book. She does quite well creating the story and I believe there will now be a lot more googling on Elizabeth Woodville, and there is nothing wrong with that.
"The White Queen" is a novel taking place during a tumultuous period of time in the latter half of the 1400's before Henry VIII's father's reign, called The Wars of The Roses, also known as The Cousin's War for the specific period that takes place within Gregory's book. England was not stable, there were two distinct factions of Lancastrians and Yorkists who battled for their right to the throne of England and each had legitimate candidacy with ancestors that had easily each justified their quests for the throne. For some, it was just a matter if the descendancy came via the female or male line as to where in the royal line of succession they landed. The Yorkists overthrew the reigning King Henry VI who was a bit 'touched in the head' and put Edward IV, a Plantagenet, on the throne, eventually murdering the pious king. It is a very intriguing history for England, as well as one of my favorites, and there are many what-if's that can be asked for the possible outcomes of this war. There are many people involved, many important figures also who are turncoats and traitors (such as Warwick the advisor and 'Kingmaker', and the king's brother George, the Duke of Clarence) and those who try to keep up with the prominent figures of this time could easily be confused. For this read, Gregory successfully dodges that confusing bullet. She sticks to her main characters and centers her story around Elizabeth Woodville, a Lancastrian widow who suddenly marries the Yorkist King. That was such an amazing feat in itself that Elizabeth and her mother were quickly branded as witches, since there could have been no other logical way that the King of England would have wedded in secret to an unimportant family from an opposing party. There are conflicting stories as to whether Elizabeth and Edward had known each other before the infamous meeting under the tree, but there is not a lot of hard evidence about Elizabeth Woodville in general. She is of a large family and was married and widowed before wedding Edward; she came into her royal marriage with two sons of her own, and she was older than her husband Edward IV. These Grey sons did not get a lot of time in the book, but were also quite important in their time, along with the Woodville clan themselves. P. Gregory depicts Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV meeting when Elizabeth asks for the rights to her dead husband's land, and soon after their marital events are taking place towards the beginning of the novel. Some intriguing dialogue comes after, prophetic phrases galore and then Queen Elizabeth is complete with three girls off of the King. I was a bit dismayed at the jump in time, as well as the lack of putting names to her growing family. It wasn't till the younger Elizabeth was 4 years old before Gregory actually mentions her name. I think that since there are so many different family members a part of this Cousin's War, that the author did not want to add more names than necessary into the story that she was telling. There are many Elizabeths, Edwards, Richards of the time. For a novice, leaving some names and their importance out of this novel works well, such as the Grey boys, but since I am not, that turned me off a bit, especially since I know the importance of her daughter, Elizabeth of York, who later does become a Queen and mother to the Tudor Dynasty. The characterization of Elizabeth Woodville in the beginning was very likable and I enjoyed the first person narration. Once Elizabeth Woodville is Queen, she seems to become immediately shallow, spiteful, and vengeful, eager to promote the Woodville names. I liked the way that the seemingly loving marriage was portrayed; Edward was promiscuous and Elizabeth had resigned herself to that even though she outwardly did not like Elizabeth (Jane) Shore. Once disaster strikes the family and her father and brother are killed in battle, she is intent on revenge and not exactly likable at that point either especially when the witchcraft angle is at use. Yet as a mother, I completely fell into pace with her character as she finally realized the extreme danger her royal family was in and I was helplessly rooting for her all the way even though I already knew the general outcome.
Although I was enjoying the way that P. Gregory was depicting the story of the traitors Warwick and Edward's brother George, I was getting a bit annoyed at the amount of times the author had Elizabeth mentioning that they were "dead men" because she has "their names in the black locket in my jewellrey case and their names will never see the light again until they themselves are in eternal darkness"... which is just one example that shows that the author wants us to believe that Elizabeth and her mother were indeed witches. Several occasions occurred where either the whistles or breaths of the ladies had affected major events in the stories. As far as witches go, I do not subscribe to that idea although I do believe that perhaps they were harmless women attempting any means possible to get what they wanted by trying little tricks and prayers and the like, but I do not believe that they would have certain powers that the author would like us to believe. With these interesting twists to the original facts, readers may not enjoy the overused witch theory.
Other little tricks of the witch angle were used that were said to aid in battles, as well as the sixth sense Elizabeth had that almost had her privy to The Sight. I call it woman's intuition. There were many references to Melusina, a goddess of the River, hence the origin of Elizabeth's family name; at the time her brother was the Earl of Rivers. And this brother Anthony Woodville is known as being a scholarly and astute man, and that memory is held intact in the novel. Anthony was shown as disputing the power of Melusina as mere stories, until he was facing his death and he even reflects upon the 'fact' that Melusina was Jacquetta's grandmother. At Anthony's death we also are treated to an actual poem that he indeed wrote during that time. I was intrigued by Anthony and I look forward to reading some more on him.
Elizabeth is very close to her brother Anthony, the other brothers do not figure prominently until a little more towards the end. Elizabeth's emotions towards her young boys and her love for her children are emoted quite well throughout, and I felt sorry for her at her inability to see the right way of out of her ordeals. I think everyone who knows the name Elizabeth Woodville would then understand the fact that her two boys by the King Edward had disappeared in the Tower following the death of the King. The novel depicts the king's brother George Duke of Clarence as an outrageously jealous boy, his and the King's mother is seemingly doting only on George and could care less for King Edward, and the third York brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester is depicted as a sensitive quiet boy who wants to come into his own in his own time. There are a few of the other main characters of The Wars of The Roses mentioned but they do not feature as prominently, such as Margaret Beaufort, her new husband and her son, Henry Tudor, who is leading the Lancastrians. Overall I did not find in-depth characterizations except just for what Elizabeth W. portrayed them as, which is the downfall of first person narratives, although a few times we slipped into third person to set the scene.
I do not want to give too much away for the actual novel, but the facts are history that many know and there are just so many facts and pertinent events!! This novel does not immediately bode well for the reputation of Richard, the dead King's brother who decides the throne should be his and not Edward's son. There are multiple reasons why the nobles do not want Edward and Elizabeth's children on or near the throne of England. The novel climaxes around the events of these little princes, and we are treated to a rare glimpse of what happened during the period the boys, and how the infamous Princes in the Tower disappeared. The author again takes liberties with the age-old theories, although mostly scoffed at the author uses them for a clever story angle.
There are many more events that occur throughout the novel that correlate to the reality of the Wars of the Roses, such as battles, births, marriages and deaths, but the basis of the novel is indeed fiction and should not be taken as fact. Ages of supporting figures are probably incorrect also. It took awhile to feel accustomed to some of my I-don't-believe-that-happened thoughts, and I had to remind myself that this was not intended to be a history lesson. The author really did a fine job of spinning the controversy of the rumors into a very entertaining read. Although the initial writing of Phillippa Gregory started off a bit forced it sucked me in quick enough. Aside from the complaints of distortion of facts which is to be expected, and the lack of character development, another criticism I have is that I could not grasp a sense of time. The chapters are divided by dates and those are the only clues we have as to what year we were in. When time passed or the author jumped a few years, we actually didn't know it unless you were paying attention to the chapter's dates. I am also sure that there were other minor facts that are misconstrued in the novel, (like dates and people involved in what conspiracy) but I am not that much of a stickler for remembering odd dates and places. I think that Phillippa Gregory wanted to keep us entertained, and since I am forever in awe of the period, and she accomplishes that.
I am sorry for the very long drawn out review, this was a hard one to do because I didn't want to give the twists away, but I wanted to try and explain my reactions to the book. And it's not every day I review a Phillippa Gregory book, so instead of deleting all the rambling discussion in the middle here I just kept it in to be true to myself. I realize only 2 of you read it, and I look forward to your responses. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed reading the novel, it was fascinating to read the plot development twists that the author fashioned and helped quench my thirst for more information on Elizabeth Woodville. I do not think that those who wish for more accuracy in their historical reads will thoroughly enjoy this one. The fact that we will never truly know what happened in many instances is still evident, but this is still a worthwhile read for those who enjoy historical fiction that is meant to entertain. The author does well with not tying up loose ends, so we are eager for her next installment. And for those that are not that up-to-speed on The Wars of The Roses, this is a fabulous introduction to one of the views of the period. Just as "The Other Boleyn Girl" beguiled many new fans of the era, and perhaps even started the Tudors media frenzy, I can only hope that this novel also spurs on the debates about The Wars of The Roses. A fabulous time period full of battles, love, treachery, you really should not miss this read.
If you have also read this book, then I direct you to Phillipa's not exactly live website here (at time of my reviewing) but you really need to be wary if you have not read the book, as it contains serious spoilers. Otherwise for those who received an ARC like I did, this is a good replacement for the Author's note that we enjoy so much. There is also a group read occurring August and September on Goodreads. It will be separated out by chapters so that you will not get hit with any spoilers. This would have been delightful for me as I was reading it, as sometimes I was bursting at the seams with incredulity, yet other times I was truly aching for Elizabeth's loss.
I am hosting a giveaway for an unread copy of the ARC of this novel which reached me par avion from the UK which is always fun, but this is for USA addresses only. The ARC is shown in the picture shown above. In order to qualify as an entry, you must do all of the following. (You do NOT need to leave separate comments):
1. Follow This Blog via Google (See sidebar, or the very top of page under your toolbar)
2. Comment with your Email Address telling me if you have read any Phillipa Gregory Books and what your opinion is of them/her.
After all the above is complete, you may:
3. Plus One Entry for a Twitter, Facebook, Blog post or sidebar blurb mentioning this Giveaway with a link back to this review. You must also post the link to where I can find your post doing this. You can also borrow this handy dandy graphic to post it, just don't forget to link it to here:


Contest Ends: Friday, August 14th 7:00PM CST; I will email the winner who has 48 hours to respond.