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.