Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory — 464 pgs

Elizabeth Woodville is a young and attractive widow living with her two sons on her parents’ estate when one day the boy King, Edward of York, passes through her yard. Elizabeth wishes to draw his attention to the fact that her lands have not been returned to her after her husband’s death, which occurred during a battle between the Lancasters and Yorks. Though Elizabeth feels no loyalty toward this king whom she calls a usurper, she can’t help but feel the spark and blush of attraction to the young king, a feeling that is evidently reciprocated. Soon Edward and Elizabeth are wed in a secret ceremony and Elizabeth takes her place as the new Queen of England. But things are far from peaceful in the kingdom, for King Edward is one of three York brothers who are all vying for the throne. As Elizabeth advances her friends and family through the ranks of the English court, making powerful enemies along the way, her husband faces betrayal and war from his once loyal brothers and his trusted advisers. Elizabeth begins to draw on an ancient magic to protect her new husband and her family, but even this isn’t enough. When her two young sons are born into the line of succession and Edward's reign is threatened once again, Elizabeth and her remaining children must go into hiding from their dangerous uncles. But despite her magic, her two sons lives are not safe, and the future of the two boys in the Tower remains shrouded with danger and foreboding. In this captivating and rich historical drama, Phillipa Gregory re-imagines the famous War of the Roses and introduces her reader to the indomitable and cunning Queen Elizabeth Woodville.

I’m normally a huge sucker for anything written by Phillipa Gregory. I can't get enough of her racy writing and love to indulge myself every now and then with some eye candy from one of my favorite authors. Unfortunately, this is the first time I’ve been utterly disappointed by the story that Gregory has created. I went into this book expecting to be blown away and found that I was only moderately entertained by the first book in this new series.

I have always been keenly interested in the Tudor dynasty, and having not read anything about the Plantagenets, I assumed that this book would be a very entertaining way to begin studying them. The problem was that the story of the York brothers was such a never ending tug-of-war that things became very boring very quickly. I’m not suggesting that Gregory rewrite history (though sometimes she does just that), but I think she could have tried to make things a little more interesting and diverting than she did. By the third time there was a rebellion by a younger brother, my patience was fully exhausted by that particular storyline, because it was written the same. way. every. time. Like I said, I know this is history and this is the way it happened, but I had hoped it could have been a bit more condensed or that the storyline could have focused on something more exciting and steamy (as I usually expect with Gregory).

I also really disliked Elizabeth Woodville. She was always scheming and came across as ultra ambitious, doling out money and land to those in her family and then wondering why she had so many enemies. She was not portrayed as a very charismatic woman, and unlike Greogory's past portrayals of Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth was not in the least mysterious or enigmatic. She was a huge whiner most of the time and came across as a spoiled child with entitlement issues. I disliked her immediately, and I guess having to read a whole book from her point of view was a little too much for me. I hated the way she played power games with her children's lives and the way she cared so much about getting revenge on those who had hurt or belittled her. Too much scorn and entitlement in a character is annoying to me, favorite author or no.

One of the other things that didn't work well here were the supernatural elements. While I liked what Gregory did with witchcraft in The Wise Woman, I didn't like it here. It seemed contrived, and though it was probably meant to feel very organic and go hand in hand with the accusations of witchcraft made against Elizabeth at the time, it all felt very artificial to me. Ditto on the sections about her spiritual and familial connections to the water goddess Melusina. A storm preventing warfare? Caused by Elizabeth, her witchcraft, and Melusina. An enemy dying in agony? Elizabeth and the witchcraft again. See where I’m going with this? If Gregory wants to stand on precedent in her history, that’s fine, but filing historical inconveniences under witchcraft and water goddesses all the time got very tiresome, very quickly.

I did end up learning an awful lot about the Plantagenets and the War of the Roses in this book, which in some ways was excellent. I learned all the ins and outs of the brothers in war and beyond it, and I discovered the history of the two Princes in the Tower, which is something I’ve always wanted to learn about. The problem was that I could have gotten all this information from a decent history book, which I probably would have enjoyed a lot more. I guess I just expected too much from Gregory on this account, and was really disappointed to discover that although she does the Tudors very, very well, her brilliance in other areas is a little less mature. Everything in this book was very stiff and clunky to me, and the writing felt very junior and inexperienced. It wasn’t a particularly exciting story, and the characters were less distinct than any of her others have ever been to me.

As much as it pains me to say this, I would have to urge others to avoid this book. While I really admire Gregory as an author, I felt that this book was just too awkward and unpleasant for me to recommend, and I’m a little mad to have picked it out of a stack full of books that were all waiting for attention. If you’re a first time reader of Gregory, I would really recommend The Other Boleyn Girl or The Queen's Fool. Maybe even The Wise Woman if you're feeling adventurous. I won’t be reading the rest of this series because, frankly, Gregory's treatment of this time period just doesn't interest or suit me.

28 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I lot of my friends love Gregory's work but I have no interest in that time period for some reason.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I really don't like the idea of mixing historical and supernatural elements. It adds to much confusion about what was "real" in my opinion! Thanks for your thorough review of the issue!

JaneGS said...

This book is on my shelf, and as fan of both the Plantagenets and Gregory I've been looking forward to reading it. I'm also currently reading the fantastic Sunne in Splendour, but so far Elizabeth Woodville is only seen through others' eyes so I wanted to read her own story.

Sorry to hear this was a clunker for you.

Beth F said...

Ugh. I didn't realize there were supernatural elements -- apparently I didn't read the reviews close enough. I like what I've read of Gregory, but I'll avoid this.

Wall-to-wall books said...

Wow! I am so glad that you were honest with your review! I have never read any of her books, although I love Historical Fiction. So - this one won't be my first! LOL

Mystica said...

I've read several of her books and this will be another new angle to historical fiction.

Alison Skap said...

Thank you for your honest review! I read The White Queen last summer, and I felt much of the same way you did. I struggled to finish it, and I'm now gun-shy about investing so much time into another one of her books. I will, but I'm not ready yet.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I appreciate the honesty. I'm not a fan of the genre anyway, but if I were going to try it out, I don't think I'd start with this author. I've just heard too many inconsistent reports.

nomadreader said...

Sometimes I feel like the only person who hasn't read Gregory. Partly because I don't really know where to start--but it sounds like this one is definitely not the place to begin. It's disappointing when a favorite author's book doesn't work for you, and I hope your next Gregory read fares better.

Suko said...

Thanks for your very honest review. This book is obviously not your favorite book by this outstanding author.

NovelKatie said...

I agree with your thoughts, RB. I was interested by the role the women had in this period of history but I thought the sorcery almost belittled their intelligence.

And JaneGS - Thanks for mentioning The Sunne In Splendour. I hadn't heard of that before and the reviews sound excellent!

Brooke said...

I've only read one novel by Gregory, but enjoyed it. I know sometimes it can be hard to give a negative review to a favorite author, but we all appreciate the head's up! I'll make sure this is the next Gregory novel I tackle!!

Jenners said...

Wow! I thought Phillpa Gregory was a goddess yet this book left you cold. I haven't read any of her stuff, but I won't start with this one.

Marg said...

I used to be a big Gregory fan but I read more than one disappointing book and just couldn't do it anymore.

Athira said...

I'm so sorry that this didn't work out for you. I have heard a lot of good things about this author, but have never read any of her books. Thanks for suggesting her other works that I could start with. I will definitely look for them.

Paulita said...

Oh, this is sad. My daughter loves these books, but she sometimes doesn't pick the best written ones. She loved Twilight -- but that's probably opening a whole can of worms.

jennysbooks said...

I think that Elizabeth Woodville was legitimately pretty shady. At least that is my recollection from the days when I was obsessed with Richard III. It's not really like this book at all, but have you ever read Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time? It's where I learned most of what I know about the Plantagenets, and it is awesome.

Oh! Paper Pages said...

I am a little embarrassed to admit that I have not read a Philippa novel. I have heard such great things about her storytelling, and I just need to sit down and read something! While I will read her work, I will definitely take your advice and pick up one of her other novels. Thanks for the honest review!

s @ Oh! Paper Pages

Trisha said...

That's too bad that this one disappointed. I've only read a few of her novels, but so far, so good. :) Maybe I'll skip this series...

Harvee Lau said...

If I remember correctly from history, the story of the two princes in the tower is a pretty awful, and reading about what brought it about could be pretty depressing. Maybe the story itself was not as elaborate as the Tudors'. Not enough ladies and couretiers and romance to liven up the story, maybe. Just guessing. But I won't read it!

Audra said...

I feel like recently, Gregory's novels have been getting pretty low reviews, from both old fans and new fans. Her last four or five releases have elicited pretty low responses from the bloggers I know and trust.

Stephanie Ward said...

It's a shame this was a disappointment. It really doesn't sound like supernatural elements would fit in a novel like this.

Jennifer @ Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I really enjoyed this one. It's too bad you were disappointed. I'm hoping to read her latest book soon.

Ana @ things mean a lot said...

Oh no! Sorry to hear this was such a let down :\ And I second Jenny's recommendation - The Daughter of Time is a great read.

Aarti said...

Oh, sad! I have this set of four books on the Plantagenets by Thomas Costain - I haven't read any of them yet, but I think they are supposed to be quite good! I got them after reading The Sunne in Splendour, I think. If you have not read that and want to read more on the Richard III situation, I would highly recommend that book!

Lisa said...

What a disappointment. I'm not entirely opposed to rewriting history; it is historical "fiction" but Gregory has done it sometimes when I've felt like it was completely unnecessary.

Literary Feline said...

I am sorry this one wasn't better for you, Heather. I read another of this author's books years ago and liked it okay, but I've never tried the author again despite everyone telling me I must.

Buried In Print said...

I heard an interview with the author about this novel and I thought it sounded pretty interesting, but then I don't mind reading books about characters who are hard to like, providing that I feel I'm getting a sense of understanding about why they make the choices they make along the way. Still, I'm not in a rush for this one by any means.

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