One of my fondest memories as a reader was listening to Philippa Gregory speak at the National Book Festival last year and then getting to meet her briefly. That experience put me on a cloud from which it took a long time to float down. Getting the opportunity to read The White Queen before it was officially published was such a treat for me. I wanted to take this treasure and squirrel myself away until I had finished it. While I doubt that any other Gregory novel will eclipse The Other Boleyn Girl in this reader’s heart, I really enjoyed heading back further in England’s history with Philippa to the life of Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner whose eldest daughter by King Edward IV would one day become the mother of Henry VIII.
The story begins with Elizabeth Woodville, a young widow of the Cousins War, standing by the roadside waiting for the even younger man who claimed himself to be King Edward. He fought for the House of York while Elizabeth’s family were from the House of Lancaster. Although they were on opposite sides, Elizabeth was desperate to reclaim her husband’s property from his mother. She needed it to raise her two young sons. When Edward saw her along side the road, he was enchanted and, despite an encounter where she refused him by force, ordered that her husband’s property be returned to her. Despite his intentions, he could not erase this most beautiful woman from his mind. He, with the help of Elizabeth’s mother Jacquetta, arranged for them to be married in secret. Once Edward was securely on the throne, his decision to marry for love instead of for political gain made enemies for Elizabeth and Edward. Enemies that they never fully shook. They had to fight for their place in England like they loved each other – fiercely.
Interwoven into the historical story of Elizabeth and her unlikely marriage to the British monarch is the story of Melusina, a magical fish woman who agrees to become human for the love of a mortal man. Jacquetta raised her children with stories of this woman she viewed as her kinswoman, her mystical mother. Through her, she believes that the women of the Woodville family have access to Melusina’s magic and ability to see the future. Jacquetta and Elizabeth are true to Melusina and throughout the novel there are scenes where they use their strength to attempt to alter events which women ordinarily did not have the ability to intervene. Their tools were the water and the weather, fickle things that could just as easily turn against them when employed without great care. Elizabeth, a stubborn woman of strong emotion who never quite learned her mother’s patience, didn’t always reason things through before calling on Melusina. What Jacquetta and Elizabeth practiced was more a form of speeding up karma than conjuring black magic. Nothing that they could do could truly protect them. It simply gave them a sense of playing a part in a war and in a world so very far out of their control.
The White Queen hit just the right note for me. The story was engaging and fast paced. I liked all of the characters – most especially those who could not be trusted. Elizabeth’s family was strong and I really enjoyed the relationship she had with her mother and her brother, Anthony. Anthony stood out because his sense of chivalry, which seemed so counter to all of the manipulating and scheming that prevaded the political climate. The mysticism may not appeal to every reader, but it worked well for me. This dimension added weight to Elizabeth’s character, and made the threats of witchcraft more serious because she was far from careful. There couldn’t be more fertile time period for Gregory to bring to life than the War of the Roses. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. Philippa Gregory is in her element with these bold, bitchy woman and dashing, dastardly men from the Houses of York and Lancaster. I’m loving every minute of it!
In honor of The White Queen, Philippa Gregory had her website redesigned. I love it and wished she had done something similar to her Library section earlier. It lists all of her novels in chronological order by century. There is much to explore and I’ve only started reading through it.
In addition to that, they had Elizabeth Woodville on Twitter! Her tweets are done, but you can go there and read them through from the beginning. I had finished the novel before they started and reading each reminded me of Elizabeth and her story. What a wonderful idea!
The White Queen is available in stores today!! You can also buy this novel online by clicking here.
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