Having read a couple of Philippa Gregory books already (The Other Boleyn Girl, The Boleyn Inheritance, The Queen’s Fool and the first few chapters of The Other Queen), I was quite done with her style. I find her continuous use of first-person narrative irritating, and her characters one-dimensional.
From the way she portrays them, you would be able to come up with two or three adjectives to describe each characters and that would be about it. It is as if Philippa Gregory picks out a couple of simple words to base their characters on: Beautiful, Evil, Courageous, Wise, or Cowardice. They don’t divert from these simple boxed categories, and for that, I get bored of her novels.
Despite my aversion to Gregory books, I hastily picked up The White Queen when I saw BBC’s trailer on the dramatised version. You see, I am such a sucker for period dramas and I have this rule not watching a dramatised version before reading the original book. So half of me dreading having to trudge through another Philippa’s book, and the half of me anticipating the TV series, I read on.
The book is set in the Wars of the Roses and is told through the eyes of Elizabeth Woodville, a Lancastrian widow who becomes the Queen of England by marrying Edward IV of York. Her family’s sudden rise to power creates much rift in the court, giving way to plots and betrayals of those who were once loyal. Elizabeth has to fight for her childrens’ inheritance, as Margaret of Anjou, Margaret Beaufort, Duke of Clarence (brother of King Edward IV) and Earl of Warwick (who had put King Edward IV on the throne) all risk everything in order to claim the crown.
So how was the book?
All the elements that annoy me about Philippa Gregory books are still there, but I was hooked to the story. Without giving too much detail for those who haven’t read it yet, the fall and rise of characters as they turn coats as often as one would change their iphone cases makes it an exciting read. The pace driving through this tumultuous time is quite snappy and fast, with the political climate flipping from one chapter to the next. As the strength of the book lies in its storyline, perhaps much of the credit should go to the history itself. If I had been already familiar with the Wars of Roses, I’m not sure if I would have been glued to the book as much as I had been.
If you want to know more about the Wars of Roses without having to endure the boredom of a history book, I think Gregory’s Cousins’ War series is a good way to get going. Each book is told through the key figures during the war, and I’m guessing they would provide different perspectives to the same event. I’m currently reading The Kingmaker’s Daughters to see how it compares with The White Queen.
The chronological order that these books should be read in is:
1) The Lady of the Rivers (Story of Jacquetta Woodville, the mother of Elizabeth Woodville)
2) The White Queen (Story of Elizabeth Woodville)
3) The Red Queen (Story of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII)
4) The Kingmaker’s Daughters (Story of Anne Neville, the daughter of Earl of Warwick and married to King Richard III)
5) The White Princess (Story of Elizabeth of York and married to King Henry VII)
If you’ve read all five, which one of them do you think is the best?