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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars THE WHITE QUEEN, 14 April 2013
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This review is from: The White Queen (Cousins War Series Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
THE WHITE QUEEN

Philippa Gregory

The White Queen is the first book in Gregory's trilogy about the Wars of the Roses. Elizabeth Woodville is already a widow with two young sons as the story opens. Her family has always supported the Lancastrian side and her husband was killed fighting for them; but when she sees the new King Edward of York riding past she falls instantly in love with him, and he with her.

This was the first event that made me feel that there was an element of unreality to Gregory's version of the story. Whatever the fairy stories say, and whatever story Elizabeth may have told in later life, I find it hard to believe that two people can fall in love so finally at first sight. Some credibility is provided by the suggestion that Edward is an attractive man who expects to have his way with any pretty woman and Elizabeth is wise enough to keep him at arms length until they are secretly married. But given the real politique of the day I wonder if it could have happened so easily.

In the history books the Woodvilles are generally portrayed as scheming parvenues whose determination to promote their own interests makes Edward unpopular and foments rebellion. Gregory's clever angle on this is to show the situation through Elizabeth's eyes. She has been brought up in a country in turmoil and both she and Edward know how shaky his hold on the throne is. So it makes sense to promote her family and their kinsfolk to high office or marry them off to powerful people, so as to surround themselves with reliable supporters. Quite subtly, Gergory shows us how Elizabeth develops from a romantic woman, a beautiful and beloved Queen, to a schemer who will stop at nothing to retain power.

This first person view point has its strengths in that it allows us to share in the heroine's emotions and understand her state of mind; but it has its drawbacks. Since everything has to be seen through Elizabeth's eyes, many of the important events such as battles can only be reported at second hand. Gregory counteracts this by suggesting that she is gifted with second sight. Her mother, Jacquetta, believes herself descended from Melusina, a mythical goddess half-woman half-fish, and thinks that she has inherited her magical powers. She does not insist on their efficacy, only that they might, perhaps, work. To begin with, Elizabeth is also sceptical but as the story progresses it relies more and more on this element. Elizabeth 'sees' the outcome of battles; sees her husband take flight by boat after a defeat. She and her daughter breath a fog that will roll up the Thames valley to conceal Edward's army from their foes; they call up a storm to prevent Warwick from landing in France; and they call up a flood to prevent enemy forces from reaching London. Finally, she puts a curse on Richard, Edward's brother who has usurped the throne in the place of their young son, tying a thread round her own arm till it goes numb so that his sword arm will weaken in the crucial battle; and when she believes her son has been murdered she curses whoever has done it that he will lose his own first born son and pass on the curse to his descendants so that in the end his line will die out. With the benefit of our knowledge of history, we can see that this is indeed the fate of both Richard and his rival Henry Tudor. We also know that Richard comes to his end in exactly the way Elizabeth foresees. What Elizabeth does not understand, however, until too late is that her magical powers are a two-edged sword. The storms she conjures up prevent potential rescuers from reaching her; and her own daughter is likely to be married to either Richard or Henry, the two most likely candidates for the murder of her son.

Richard 111 receives a more sympathetic portrayal then he gets in Shakespeare's tragedy. He is not a hunchback, just smaller and darker than his brothers, and the question of whether he is responsible for the deaths of the princes in the Tower is left open. Here, incidentally, Gregory goes along with the legend that one of the princes did not die but was smuggled away to Flanders, whence he will one day return as the Pretender, Perkyn Warbeck.

This is an ingenious story and one that involves the reader from the start. If you are prepared to go along with the magical element it is a satisfying and enjoyable read.
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