Thursday 22 July 2010

Book Review : The White Queen - Philippa Gregory

When The White Queen became a number one bestseller last year and everyone was raving about it, I still shunned it. Historical fiction is just not my thing and makes me think of high-brow, stuffy Oxbridge lecturers describing long forgotten ancestry in tedious prose. I'd much rather read crime fiction or chick lit any day. But then, won over by the enthusiasm of those in the know at Simon & Schuster, I agreed to get involved in The Red Queen blog tour to celebrate the release of Philippa Gregory's new novel next month and I received a copy of both books in the mail. I decided to read a few pages to see what all the fuss was about and I was sucked in - I never dreamed historical fiction could be so enthralling !

Philippa Gregory writes seriously researched historical novels but she knows how to add some oomph - imagine a cross between Shakespeare's historical plays and a hefty dose of Bridget Jones and you wouldn't be far wrong ! Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen of the title, is sassy, determined, cunning, ambitious and passionate and these timeless qualities make her interesting to modern readers because we can empathise with her. She may wear conical head dresses and accept unflinchingly as her husband the king beds his way across England but in most aspects of her psyche, she's just like any 21st century girl, doing whatever she needs to keep herself and her family healthy and wealthy.

We can share her joy as she beats all odds and gets her man, becoming the first commoner to marry an English king. We watch with bated breath and a sense of horror as cousins and brothers turn on each other and stab each other in the backs, literally on the battlefields and figuratively in secret plotting, in this merciless War of the Roses, dubbed The Cousins' War. We feel her pain as it is all snatched away from her and her loved ones are in mortal danger.

I was aware of the story of the Princes in the Tower but it has never moved me in the slightest. In The White Queen, we see this sordid tale from the viewpoint of the mother and it becomes heart-wrenching and atrocious. Historians have never been able to determine what really happened to the royal princes so Philippa Gregory has to add a certain degree of hypothetical fiction based on the facts. The same is true of the Melusina legend and the elements of witchcraft, based on fact and historical hearsay but embroidered into a rich underlay, adding a supernatural and spectacular topcoat to the already fascinating tale of treachery and ambition.

I was amazed at how much I enjoyed reading The White Queen. It's got wow-factor (in the mystical incantations and seemingly supernatural consequences), ow-factor (in the bloody battles) and now-factor (in Queen Elizabeth's contemporary values and dreams) and I never thought I'd say that about historical fiction !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £7.99

Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Pocket Books (15 April 2010)
ISBN-10: 1847394647
ISBN-13: 978-1847394644

Other reviews you will find of interest :

Coming soon ... The Red Queen Blogger Tour - 16-20th August


  1. Great review! I'm going to be reviewing The Red Queen as well - I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on that one as well.

  2. The Red Queen review is already online (see side bar !) :-) Can't wait to compare views when your review is online.


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