Sunday, 2 October 2011

Book Review 8: The White Queen

Book Title: The White Queen
Author: Philippa Gregory
Price: P315.00 (Fully Booked)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Number of Pages:  529
Personal Rating: 7/10 
Reading Difficulty: Medium (3/5)

Book Summary:

Brother turns on brother.

The throne of England is at stake.

The deadly Wars of the Roses have begun...

They ruled England before the Tudors,a nd now internationally bestselling author Philippa Gregory brings the Plantagenets to life through the dramatic and intimate stories of the secret players; the indomitable women.

Elizabeth Woodville, a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition, secretly marries the newly crowned boy king. While she rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for the success of her family, her two sons become the central figures in a famous unsolved mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the lost princes in the Tower of London. Philippa Gregory brings the artistry and intellect of a master writer and storyteller to a new era and begins what is sure to be another bestselling classic series. 

Personal Insights:

Even though you haven't read this story yet, I am sure that you already know the 'two little princes of the tower.' If you're familiar with the Tower of London and its ghosts then you'd certainly know about this pair. These two boys, Prince Edward (12 years old) and Prince Richard (10 years old) are two well known ghosts of the tower. They had a tragic story while they  were alive. They were placed under the custody of their uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, upon the death of their father. Prince Edward was about to assume the position as king but instead of bringing him to the coronation, he was brought to the Tower of London instead. Some time after that, his brother Richard was also brought there (though there are speculations that he could have been hidden by his mother).

After several months, he and his brother were proclaimed missing so their uncle Richard ascended the throne. The next time they were seen, they were already ghosts. Obviously, there's foul play in here, but the suspect is still not determined until now--  is it their uncle Richard who became king Richard III or is it the latter king, King Henry Tudor VII. One thing is for sure: they indeed died in the tower since in 1674, there were bones of two children found in the bottom of a staircase leading to the chapel. 

The two princes of the tower. (Image from Wikipedia)

Sooo~ Enough about the boys. 

Let's talk about the protagonist of the book's story, their mother Elizabeth. 

Elizabeth is described as being a great beauty, 'the most beautiful woman in the island of Britain.' She was originally married to Sir John Grey and had two sons with him. Sir John, a supporter of the House of Lancasters (Red Rose), died during a battle against the House of Yorks (White Rose). The novel started with Elizabeth, wanting to restore her husband's lands. She sought help from the boy Edward  from the House of York whom she surmised would be the next king. Though Edward is known for his philandering nature, he was taken aback by Elizabeth's beauty during their first meeting. Again and again, he tempted the widowed woman to bed with him, but the latter would not agree to sleep with him since they are not married. In fact, Elizabeth even attempted to commit suicide if ever Edward did try to pursue her forcefully.

Elizabeth feared that Edward would not help her fight for her land because of her refusal to sleep with him, but it seems that Edward truly did fall in love with her for he asked her to marry him-- in secret. Elizabeth was accused of being a whore by her own family upon knowing that she slept with Edward. They claimed that 'secret marriage' was one of the cheap tricks that Edward used to persuade girls to sleep with him. Though anxious and hurt by her family's accusations, Elizabeth still harbored great feelings of love for Edward and continued to believe in him. In time, her loyalty  and trust for Edward awarded her the greatest title that could be bestowed upon a British woman; she is now known as "Queen Elizabeth" of the House of York. 

Rising to the top however, was not easy especially for Elizabeth who was born a commoner to a family who supported the House of Lancasters. Naturally, she found enemies within the king's court especially in the person of Richard Neville, "The Kingmaker." After being married to the King of England and bearing him children, Elizabeth soon found that being Queen in a land torn by a cousin's war is not a desirable position to hold especially when it meant that all her loved ones-- from her dearly beloved husband to her little prince sons-- were to be taken from her. This is a story of a woman caught in a difficult position and surrounded with treachery, despair, and death.   

So, what are my thoughts for this book? 

So far, I have only read three books of Philippa Gregory, and I find all of them page turners. It is true that Philippa Gregory is a master of story telling. Her works are well- researched and the flow of her story's plot is so fluid. I'd also like to add that this book has a unique feature, She added a sense of 'magical realism' to it. Back then, magic and witchcraft is forbidden, but she implied that Elizabeth and her mother are indeed great witches descended from the line of the water goddess Melusine. Elizabeth's enemies like Richard Neville's accusations of her being a witch may seem unfounded in real history, but Philippa presented another side-- what if she really did practice the black arts?

What I appreciate most about Philippa Gregory's style is the way she weaves fabricated stories into accepted historical facts. For example, she implied in this story that the younger prince, Richard, did not go to the Tower of London. In her story, Queen Elizabeth purportedly hid Prince Richard among the commoners so that in due time, Prince Richard could come back and win his father's throne back. The way she implied this and the way she inserted it in the story's time line is pure genius!

You can see that I highly appreciate this book, but if you'll ask me if I enjoyed reading it, I'll probably say "No." True, I think that Philippa Gregory is a great author, there are no qualms about that. But out of all her books that I read, I can't say that I "enjoyed" reading them. I've read a lot of books about the Tudor family, which I really love and I have to say that I find them better than Philippa Gregory's accounts. Their plot and the way it was written may not be as good as Philippa's, but it's easier to relate to the characters as written by authors like Carolyn Meyer or Laurien Garnder. Even though I did not find reading her books pleasurable, I would still continue to patronize the books that Philippa Gregory has written simply to appreciate her way of writing. 

So, would I recommend this book? Yes, because if you love the Tudors and their predecessors (the Plantagenets), you'll not find novels /series as complete as Philippa Gregory offers. But, I would advise you to also read books on the Tudors by other authors so you could compare.

Favorite Excerpts:

A man will always promise more than he could do to a woman he cannot understand. 

It is easier to take a country into war than to bring it to live at peace.- Elizabeth

It is not cowardice to get away from an enemy.-- Elizabeth

I never thought I was marrying an ordinary man, with moderate appetites. I never expected a marriage where he would sit quietly at my feet. He is the king; he is bound to go his own way.-- Elizabeth

We are all precious and we all have to live a life with risk.-- Anthony

Like any mean, ambitious man, he counts his losses more than his gains.-- Elizabeth

Only fools wait when their enemies are coming, to see if they may prove to be friends. -- Elizabeth

For sure, she (Margaret Beaufort- Stanley)is an unreliable friend and a doubtful ally. She seems to know everything, she seems to do nothing, and she is never punished.-- Elizabeth

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