First Line: My father is Sir Richard Woodville, Baron Rivers, an English nobleman, a landholder and a supporter of the true kings of England, the Lancastrian line.
This is the first entry in a new historical series by Gregory centering on the English War of the Roses. My "history" with Philippa Gregory has been a bit uneven. Some of her novels I've enjoyed a great deal, others didn't do much for me. I am not a purist when it comes to reading historical fiction. I always pick up a book in this genre believing that the story will take precedence over the history. As long as there are no glaring errors that throw me out of the story, I am content.
What really makes the world go round? No matter how much we may sing about it or want it, it's certainly not love. No, what makes the world go round are greedy, grasping individuals/families/clans whose thoughts seldom rise from the rut of "I, Me, Mine". A case in point is The White Queen. Gregory tells us of the world as seen through the eyes of Elizabeth Woodville, a young widow whose beauty captivated King Edward IV. As you read, never once forget that Elizabeth's view of her world is a distorted one.
Did you read the first sentence of the book above? From the very first, Elizabeth is shown as a woman who is supremely concerned with position and wealth. When she stood out in the road to wait for the king to ride by, she was merely wanting her husband's lands restored so she wouldn't have to live on the charity of others. When she saw the look on Edward's face, she immediately knew that, if she played her cards right, she might very well obtain a lot more.
Does it sound like I didn't like Elizabeth? It should, because I didn't. When she becomes Queen of England, she and her mother busy themselves giving everyone in the family important positions and power. That's the way it's always been done. They laugh when they marry off young male relatives to old wealthy widows so that they can inherit vast estates and further the family's ambitions. Never once did they seem to think that this behavior would have any repercussions.
When sending her three-year-old son to Wales (the Tudor stronghold), Elizabeth appoints her brother Anthony as the boy's chief advisor. What are her first words about this to her brother? Are they about keeping her little boy safe? Are they about his education, his diet, his happiness? No. "Anthony, there is much profit to be won from Wales." It is to Anthony's credit that, when he accepts the position, he speaks of the little boy and his well-being.
At her husband's death bed, Elizabeth's thoughts are not on losing Edward, but the best way to get her choice as Lord Protector of England accepted.
She calls herself a realist and her brother, Anthony, a dreamer, but Anthony is the one who sees the truth in the court of Elizabeth and Edward. Anthony is the character that I like in this book. He says the symbol of the House of York should not be the white rose, but the old sign of eternity-- the snake eating itself. "They are a house which has to have blood and they will shed their own if they have no other enemy."
Given that I've already admitted to not liking the main character, you'll be forgiven if you think I didn't like the book. But if you saw my rating at the top, you know that's not so. I don't have to like the main character to enjoy the book. All I ask is that the main character is multi-faceted and interesting. Elizabeth is certainly both those things. She is strong-willed, knows exactly what she wants, and grabs for it with both hands-- ultimately bringing disaster down upon her entire family.
There has been talk of Elizabeth and her mother, Jacquetta, using magic several times in the book. Gregory walked a very fine line throughout but in the end, she didn't overplay the magic for me. What did irritate me was the habit Elizabeth had of always referring to the sons of her first marriage as her "Grey sons". But a woman as conscious of wealth, power and position as she would do that. After all, those boys weren't as important as her sons by the King of England-- the Princes in the Tower.
This is a very strong start to Gregory's new series. I certainly look forward to reading the other books as they are published.
I didn't think this book was up to Philippa Gregory's standards. I usually love her books and I just thought this was average. I guess we will see what the rest of the series brings. If you really want a good Philippa Gregory book read the Virgin Earth.
The White Queen is the first in Gregory's War of the Roses series and I liked it even more than her Tudor books. The main reason for that is that this book isn't straightforward historical fiction, there's a bit of fantasy there too and I enjoy fantasy tremendously. The fantasy elements are based on the fact that the real Elizabeth Woodville and her mother were accused of witchcraft and believed themselves to be the descendants of Melusina, a European river goddess, but Gregory takes it a step further in tying the women's unconventional actions into the plot in a way that this gives the novel a flavor the other books don't have. There's nothing that can be positively identified as witchcraft, just some remarkable coincidences, but the way Gregory tells it there's always the "what if" in the back of the reader's mind. The legend of Melusina itself is told in pieces throughout the book and in echoing the mood and theme of the particular section it amplifies the effect of magic permeating the story.
I'm already used to Gregory's characters being strong and vivid while at the same time very human and I enjoy getting to know them even if I can't relate to them. Edward IV here is a king who sees the big picture and has his country and the future of his family in the forefront of his thoughts at all times. On the day of his wedding to Elizabeth he's already thought about and put plans into place to prepare for all eventualities. Elizabeth's mother is an absolutely remarkable character and I'm glad that we got to see some of her. Strong, intelligent, with her eye on the prize at all times but not hard and cold. I look forward to reading The Lady of the Rivers when it comes out later this year because she will be at the center of that novel. Elizabeth herself is a woman to the tips of her fingernails. She inherited her mother's cleverness and her father's temperament and with time became the matriarch looking out for her family's future, able to look the other way when the matter wasn't serious enough and to demand what she wanted when she believed that her position was threatened.
There's only one thing that made it difficult to keep track of the plot and detracted from the experience: everybody seemed to be Elizabeth, Edward, George, Robert, Richard and Margaret. When there's several of each in every family you know it's time to come up with some more names, just to make talking about each other easier, if for no other reason. But what can you do, that's the way things were.
Gregory gets criticized a lot for not making her novels historically accurate and while I'm no history buff and can't agree or disagree with the critics I can say that her fiction flows naturally and whatever liberties she takes with the facts don't appear to be to the story's detriment. It is fiction after all, and very good fiction at that.
Extremely well researched with wonderfully developed characters. One of Gregory's best!
Read this for my online book club, The Reading Cove. I enjoyed Elizabeth's romance/marriage with King Edward, but all the plotting, scheming & worrying over the throne became very repetitive & stale.
Richards, Edwards, & Georges abound. It was such a chore keeping the players straight. I think this book was about 100-200 pages too long. The allegory of Melusina the water goddess and Elizabeth's being her descendant was completely overdone and pointless.
I think I'm burned out on Philippa Gregory's take on the English royals. I've read them all and after The Other Boleyn Girl, it just feels like it's the same story in each book, only with different characters. Same old scheming, spying, plotting, manipulating and beheading for the throne. Yawn. I think I'll be skipping the rest of this series.