The White Princess

whiteprincessAuthor: Philippa Gregory
First Published: July 2013
Publisher: Touchstone
Series: The Cousins’ War #5
528 pages (hardcover)

I bought this book right when it was released, but didn’t get around to reading it till now. Well, I did try once but I think I was getting a bit burnt out with so many Tudors-related novels, so I had to take a break. I took a very long break … Anyway, I finished this book over the course of two days. While I normally love Philippa Gregory’s books, this one just seemed kind of “meh” to me.

The White Princess is about Elizabeth of York, Henry VII’s queen. The story begins right when Henry VII has claimed the throne of England by conquest. The previous king, Richard, who is also Elizabeth’s lover (and also her uncle) was cut down in battle and thrown into some unmarked grave. Elizabeth is not only distraught over the death of her beloved, but very unhappy that she is to marry her lover’s killer, Henry Tudor.

Henry initially tries to delay marrying Elizabeth, as she is from his rival family, but eventually is forced to by his mother and by Parliament. It is necessary that they wed so that the families can be united and hopefully no more wars will come about. Elizabeth and Henry hate one another at first, but as they begin their family together, slowly come to love one another.

Despite marrying Elizabeth, Henry is not safe on his throne. Elizabeth’s cousin, Edward Warwick, has, what some might say, a better claim to the throne to Henry. And there is a great pretender to the throne claiming to be Elizabeth’s long lost brother, Prince Richard, who has the greatest claim of all. As this pretender befriends the great monarchs of Europe and rallies to his side many, many supporters (many more than Henry has), Henry becomes increasingly paranoid and suspicious of everyone. As for Elizabeth, she wonders if this pretender could really be her brother? And if he is, how should she react to him trying to reclaim his throne from her husband, and her sons?

I have read every book in this series of The Cousins’ War so far. I think the problem is, the entire series is telling the exact same story, but through the perspectives of different characters. I think that is why I did not find the story in The White Princess very interesting. I mean, history is interesting, but there is so much overlap in the books’ stories that I feel like I have read the exact same story four times before already. I don’t think it helps that her female characters all have a very similar voice. Elizabeth narrates very similarly to her mother Elizabeth from The White Queen, Jacquetta from Lady Of The Rivers, to Anne Warwick in The Kingmaker’s Daughter, etc.

Elizabeth, in fact, is a completely unmemorable character in this book. Her character has absolutely no agency, she passively watches events unfold around her, and all she ever seems to say to anyone is, “I don’t know, I don’t know” when asked what she thinks is happening. Her character was rather disappointing.

The second half of the novel is much better, at least, because the stuff with the pretender to the throne, the boy pretending to be Prince Richard, is all new stuff that was not presented in any of the previous novels. It made me very interested in this pretender, and I actually went to look up more information about him after I finished this book. I knew very little about this pretender business during Henry VII’s reign, so I liked reading the fictionalized version of it in this book.

Overall, it was a decent read but nothing to write home about. The next, and final, book in The Cousins’ War series is going to be about Margaret Pole, Elizabeth’s cousin. Since Margaret spent much of her life with Elizabeth, I am predicting a considerable amount of story overlap again, but I will still give the book a chance when it is released.

My Rating:

The Kingmaker’s Daughter

the-kingmakers-daughterAuthor: Philippa Gregory
First Published: August 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Series: The Cousins’ War #4
409 pages (paperback)

Ahh, I would have read this sooner but I wanted to buy it and I didn’t want to buy it in hardcover ’cause I’m cheap. Well, finally, it’s out in paperback and I finished reading it — so glad it lives up to my expectations of Gregory’s Cousins’ War series, especially since the last one on Jacquetta was okay, but a bit duller than what I expected. Also, I had little idea who Jacquetta was and frankly, just didn’t care about her. This one, The Kingmaker’s Daughter, is on Anne Neville (the wife of the infamous King Richard III), which to me, is considerably more interesting. By the way, I do talk about the story points rather freely — I don’t consider them spoilers because it’s, well, historical. But if you haven’t a clue as to what happens to Anne and Richard and all these historical figures, perhaps skip this review :)

In this book, it describes Anne’s life from a young girl to adulthood. She is the daughter of Richard Neville, who is known as the Kingmaker because whoever he supports becomes king. The fact that he is a strategist and that he only has 2 daughters and no sons means Anne and her sister Isabel find themselves becoming pawns in their father’s grand plans. One way or another, he vows to make one of his daughters queen and hopefully, a grandson will follow, eventually putting a king with Neville blood in his veins on the throne.

Anne is the younger sister and finds herself in a sort of rivalry with her sister, both wanting to be their father’s favourite daughter, both wanting to be Queen of England. However, the current Queen of England, Elizabeth Woodville, hates the Neville family with all her heart and Anne fears her greatly. She believes Elizabeth Woodville to be a witch, and is afraid of her wrath and powers. Fortune’s wheel rises and fall, and all the players in this story find themselves rising high and falling very low as well.

I really enjoyed this book a lot! I’ve never really noticed Anne Neville before this book, to be honest. Anne Neville is a character that is usually just brushed over in novels (granted, not much is known about her) and her perspective, as well as Richard’s, is a refreshing one. Often they are portrayed as villains because it’s all too easy to do so. In this book, Anne and Richard are devoted to the previous king, King Edward V, and are shown to be loyal to him to the very end. Everything they did was for the sake of Edward’s legacy and the country of England. Elizabeth Woodville is portrayed as a villainous witch; Anne trembles with fright just thinking of her. Many people think Elizabeth Woodville is a witch in this story, but there is no proof that she actually is one, by the way. Anyway, I love this flip of portrayals! Especially since I remember reading The White Queen by the same author, and loving Elizabeth Woodville and thinking, “Oh god, everyone is so mean to her, what a hard life this poor woman is living!” And then, in this book, I think, “That Elizabeth Woodville, she is so malicious and vindictive, sheesh! Poor Anne, none of this is her fault at all!”

I’ve seen some one-line reviews that call this book a sister story, but I don’t really think it is. Not that that’s a problem or anything, just something I noticed. While Anne and her sister Isabel’s rivalry figure prominently in the beginning of the story and explains Anne’s desire to become Queen, after Isabel dies, the rivalry dies off too and it’s all about Anne. I did enjoy reading about their relationship though, and it did bring back positive memories of Philippa Gregory’s other book on sisters, The Other Boleyn Girl.

I wasn’t too crazy about what I considered the climax of the story — when Anne finally became queen. I kind of expected more pomp and excitement from Anne when it happened, but it was so low-key. Anne talks about how she was born to be queen, and how she has fulfilled her father’s ambitions, but there wasn’t anything more than that. It was a little disappointing to be honest. I thought I would feel happy for our protagonist when she finally succeeds over Elizabeth Woodville, her lifelong enemy, but when Anne became Queen, I didn’t feel much of anything at all.

But the lack of excitement at the climax hardly puts a damper to the rest of the story. I feel like I learned so much more about the War of the Roses by reading this book from another character’s perspective, and a minor character at that too. It had everything I wanted — lots of historical details, creativity without straying too far from history, great plotting and pacing. I look forward to her fifth book on Elizabeth of York very much!

My Rating:

The Lady Of The Rivers

the-lady-of-the-riversAuthor: Philippa Gregory
First Published: September 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Series: The Cousins’ War #3
443 pages (hardcover)

I’m a fan of Philippa Gregory so no surprise that I’d eventually read this book of her’s. I still remember being very excited seeing a brand new looking copy of this book, in hardcover, at the thrift store and paid only a few dollars for it :D (I swear, it looks like it was never read … guess someone got it as a gift or something but didn’t want it? Mine now, haha). I’m slowly catching up with the Cousins’ War series, I’m hoping I’ll be able to read the 4th book — The Kingmaker’s Daughter — before book 5 comes out!

The Lady Of The Rivers takes place, chronologically, before books #1 and #2. So if you want to read the books in order of events rather than publication, this is the one to start with (at the time of this writing). This novel is about Jacquetta, the mother of Elizabeth Woodville, who was Queen Consort of King Edward IV of England. The novel starts with Jacquetta as a young lady, witnessing the end of the Hundred Years War between England and France and watching how Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for supposed witchcraft. This event shapes Jacquetta’s attitude towards “magic” from an early age — Jacquetta’s family has a legendary linage tracing back to a water goddess named Melusina. The women of her family line are rumored to be able to have the Sight and foretell the future. Of course, such things are declared to be witchcraft in medieval England and after watching Joan of Arc die, Jacquetta learns caution.

Despite always trying to hide her visions, the Duke of Bedford marries her specifically for her skills and abilities. I want to clarify that nothing in the novel suggests Jacquetta knows any “real magic”, but rather, everyone, including herself, thinks she can foretells the future (this is compounded by the fact that she has visions that coincidentally come true; whether you believe it is magic or not is another story!) Jacquetta respects her husband, who has raised her up to be the Duchess of Bedford and a very important lady of the realm. However, when he dies, Jacquetta decides to follow her heart and marries her husband’s squire, a nobody named Richard Woodville.

Even though she is looked down upon and punished for marrying so far beneath her, Jacquetta and Richard have a wonderful, loving relationship which produces a whooping 14 children. Jacquetta can’t be any happier but perilous times draw close and her new husband is sent out to battle over and over again as England embroils itself in a civil war. Jacquetta unwillingly finds herself in the middle of it all, as Queen Margaret’s closest friend and advisor. All the while, Jacquetta wonders what the future of her many children will be like, in a time when everyone’s future — even the king and queen’s — is so uncertain.

Comparing this novel to Gregory’s first two in this series, I found The Lady of the Rivers to be a tad weaker than its predecessors. For one, I wasn’t particularly interested in Jacquetta prior to reading this novel. Really, I read this book because I love Philippa Gregory’s stories. As I read this book, I did find a new appreciation for this little-known character, but her story just didn’t seem to have the same excitement or fast pace as the first two books. She was in the middle of the action, but she never really participated, not in my eyes at least. I know it sounds like I didn’t like this book, but I assure you, I really did! I just didn’t like it as much as the first two books.

In this book we have the same magical elements that are present in The White Queen, the book that was about Jacquetta’s daughter. I don’t actually remember what I said about the magical elements in The White Queen (I think I liked it). Anyway, I liked it in this book too. I am pretty sure some readers may not like it because, hey, what is magic doing in a historical fiction novel?! But I think it fit really well. People really did believe that witchcraft and alchemy and all that stuff really existed back then, and it was reflected in this novel. Jacquetta may or may not actually have had any supernatural powers, but she (and many others) believed she did, moreso when her visions and foretellings came true. Also, it was pleasantly different angle to write a historical novel in, to make the story a little larger than life.

I just read The Queen of Last Hopes by Susan Higginbotham before this book, so I naturally noticed a huge difference in the depictions of the Lancasters and Yorks. This book and the Higginbotham book are both from the Lancaster perspective, but they each depict the Lancasters in very, very different lights. In The Lady of the Rivers, the Lancaster king and queen are shown to be completely inept, immature and hell-bent on revenge. In The Queen of Last Hopes, the Lancaster king and queen were much more mature, and a loving couple unfortunately swept up in a civil war due to a cousin’s ambition and greed. There’s nothing good or bad about the huge difference in depictions, it was just something that I found interesting since I read these two books consecutively. Just wanted to mention it!

I liked reading about Jacquetta. I never would have thought of her as an interesting character before this novel, and I did, indeed, find her interesting. I liked the storyline (which some say was overly simplified, but that works for me) though the characters were a bit “bleh” — they didn’t feel very real, though maybe that’s just me. I think it’s worth a read, though I would not say anything to anyone who wants to skip it over.

My Rating:

The Red Queen

Author: Philippa Gregory
Series: The Cousins’ War #2
First Published: 2010
Publisher: Pocket Books
464 pages (mass market paperback)

I’m a sucker for historical royalty fiction, so I’m trying to explore more of Philippa Gregory’s works. I’ve read The White Queen by the same author (see my review for it here!), and that book, along with this one, The Red Queen, tell the story of the War of the Roses from both sides of the battle. The White Queen was about Elizabeth Woodville, who married into the York family. The Red Queen stars Margaret Beaufort who is from the Lancaster family.

In the beginning of this story, the Lancaster family is in control of England, with King Henry VI on the throne. Margaret Beaufort is the king’s cousin. Either the king or Margaret needs to produce a son to continue the Lancaster line. The king and his wife do manage to give birth to a son, as well as Margaret, who names her baby boy Henry after the current king. Margaret is a very devout and religious person and strongly believes that she is going to be guided by God to continue the Lancaster line. From a very young age, Margaret is convinced that her hero, Joan of Arc, speaks to her and will help her son Henry to the throne. However, when the York family overthrows Henry VI and takes over, Margaret finds her faith tested. She decides she will do whatever is necessary to ensure that the rightful family — the Lancasters — take back the throne, with her son as the king.

Even though I already know everything that’s going to happen, for the most part, since this is kind of the same general plot as The White Queen, just from the perspective of the other side of the war, I really thoroughly enjoyed it. It was really interesting reading about the War of the Roses from the Lancaster side after being so emotionally invested into the York side. If you’ve already read The White Queen, then perhaps you, too, will also have thoughts such as, “Oh, how can I possibly like the Lancaster side after reading about how horrible they are from Elizabeth Woodville’s perspective?”

Well, to be honest, The Red Queen didn’t actually make me more sympathetic to the Lancaster cause. I still found myself quite sympathetic with the York side. This is because I found Margaret Beaufort’s portrayal in this novel quite negative. She was mean and arrogant! This doesn’t mean I think she’s a bad character or anything. She’s wonderfully written to elicit feelings of shock and disgust from me. With all that said, being wonderfully written doesn’t make her a likeable character, haha. I still liked Elizabeth Woodville a lot in this book, even though Margaret tries to vilify her. The funny thing is, I know that usually, Elizabeth is portrayed as a seductive, amibitious temptress  and Margaret as a pious, loyal woman!

Even though I really disliked Margaret Beaufort in this book, I still had a great time reading about the War of the Roses from the Lancaster point of view. It’s also nice being introduced to her son, Henry, in a less spontaneous manner (I remember in The White Queen, I thought Henry’s entrance into the story was really abrupt. I was like, “Where did this guy come from?”) and I found I quite liked Henry a lot. I never find out too much about him since this book centers on Margaret and she spent many, many years separated from one another, but he struck me as a pretty nice guy. It’d be cool if Gregory writes a book about him! Although I think she mainly focuses on female historical figures. Still, one can dream.

If you read The White Queen and liked it, I’m sure you’ll appreciate the story from the Lancaster perspective! If you’ve never read either, it really doesn’t matter which one you read first. I highly recommend this book!

My Rating:

The White Queen

Author: Philippa Gregory
First Published: August 2009
Publisher: Pocket Star
Series: The Cousins’ War #1
529 pages

I don’t think you can get away with reading historical royalty fiction without at least hearing of Philippa Gregory’s name, author of the famous The Other Boleyn Girl (which I haven’t read yet but will soon, hopefully). This is my very first book by Gregory, the first of many I think, now that I finished The White Queen. I didn’t know what to expect going in; I’m not too familiar with the War of the Roses other than really basic facts. Luckily, I found this book very engrossing from the very first few pages in, and the story was able to hold my interest tightly until the last page. In fact, all I wanted to do after finishing this book was jump straight into the next one, The Red Queen, but I’m going to try to pace myself so I don’t burn out on historical fiction so quickly, haha.

The White Queen is about Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner who catches the eye of the new York King, Edward IV. It would be in Edward’s favor to marry a French princess in order to secure an alliance between the two countries, but Edward, against his trusted friend and advisor, the Kingmaker Richard Neville’s advice, marries Elizabeth in secret, and later, crowns her as his queen. Coming from such a low position, Elizabeth ambitiously raises the ranking of her family amongst the other noble families of England, and does her best in her new queenly role, supporting her husband against Lancaster plots.

I really, really enjoyed this book. I feel like I finished it rather quickly; there were a few late-night reading sessions so that’s probably why. When I started, I just couldn’t stop, to be honest! Elizabeth is a really fascinating character and person. In this book, she’s depicted as an ambitious woman, a person who remembers those who wronged her greatly and will never give up on revenge. However, she is also depicted as very loving to her husband, her family and her children and will do anything to try to keep them safe, especially in such perilous times. I think traditionally she is vilified but from what I can tell, in this book, she’s a bit of a gray character, not completely black or white. I found it easy to relate to her.

I also really liked the legend of Melusina that was woven into the story as well. Melusina is an ancient French water goddess that Elizabeth’s family claims descent from. This causes Elizabeth and her mother to have some special powers mostly related to water (rivers, rain, etc). But it’s not blatant fantasy or anything. For example, Elizabeth wishes for a storm to stop Henry Tudor from invading London and indeed, a storm brews and stops Henry from coming. You can attribute that to Elizabeth or funky coincidence, there’s no proof, even in the book, that she’s the actual creator of the storm, even though she believes she was.

I also really liked the author’s version of what could have happened to the Princes in the Tower. Okay, that was one part of the book I did have some historical knowledge of. Gregory tells a plausible story of what could have happened to the poor boys, and she brings up excellent points as to why this theory is plausible. She really had me convinced! No one really knows what happened the princes or who killed them, if they were indeed murdered, and after reading Gregory’s version of events, I’m inclined to believe she brings up some excellent points! I’m still pretty indecisive about who the real culprit is, just because I don’t want to commit myself to one theory or another, haha.

All in all, this was a fantastic read, it kept me up way too late at nights. It got me interested in the Plantagenet dynasty, and I just had to look up more information on all the people involved in Elizabeth’s life, and revisit the mystery of the Princes in the Tower. It was so fun to read, and I can’t wait to dive into The Red Queen next! (Oh, as a P.S., this is a part of a series, but you can read the series out of order and everything will still make sense).

My Rating: