The White Queen – by Philippa Gregory
I read The Other Boleyn Girl many years ago, and quite enjoyed Gregory’s blend of history with liberal doses of fiction – it’s addictive, and there’s just enough fact to make you feel like you’re learning something as you read. I picked up The White Queen in Britain (naturally) because I’d heard it was about to be made into a TV show, and I like to read the source material first, like a good booklover. Here’s how Philippa Gregory’s foray into the lives of the Plantagenets grabbed me:
Before the Tudors, the Plantagenets reigned in a bitter, brother-against-brother dynasty. The White Queen follows the young Elizabeth Woodville, who catches the eye of the young king, Edward I. Using all her charm, wit and possible otherworldly talent, she must maneuver the deep, deadly currents of the English court. Despite her best efforts, readers will know that Elizabeth’s two sons are the centre of one of the oldest mysteries in British royal history – the mystery of the princes in the tower.
I enjoy Philippa Gregory’s style immensely. It’s not the most gripping sort of story, bound as it must be by the broad strokes of historical accuracy, but Gregory takes these facts and furnishes them with a rich story, relatable motives and real emotional stakes, Not to mention, I love British history of all eras – largely because Australia has such limited history of its own. I also particularly enjoy political machinations, whether set in a fantasy, dystopian, or middle-aged world. The White Queen ticked a lot of boxes, for me, and it was a really enjoyable read.
Elizabeth was an interesting character – women in this period had little to no power, of course, so their options for advancement or even survival were limited. Learning how to work around these limitations was crucial, and people like Elizabeth have managed this very well. Another particularly interesting character in The White Queen is Elizabeth’s mother, who raises Elizabeth with beliefs that have been a part of the family for generations: that they are part of a long line of witches. This is dangerous knowledge, and an even more dangerous belief, and yet, the Woodville women will take any advantage they can get. Their supernatural beliefs form an interesting subplot of the narrative, which I can imagine will be a larger part of the series as a whole.
I won’t say that this book was an instant classic, or one that I’ll rave about to friends, but it was a quiet, accomplished and absorbing look into the lives of the Plantagenets, and I’ll be reading the sequels soon!
If you’re a fan of historical fiction, or if you’re looking for something a little different but still loosely related to fantasy, the court system intrigues of the Plantagenets will be perfect.