I have to admit, first off, that I picked up this book looking for something sweeping, something grand, something intricate, and yes, something slightly skanky. The book delivered two of the four, plus lots of fighting, scheming and plotting, so in the end, I’m not disappointed.
Philippa Gregory takes leave of the Tudors, and turns her more than capable gaze to the family that preceded them: the Plantagenets. Since I knew absolutely nothing about that family, historically speaking, I was starting from scratch, both in terms of expectations as well as information. The White Queen is the story of Elizabeth Woodville, a widow whose husband fought against Edward of York, and who fell in love with Edward after meeting him to appeal the loss of her lands to her former mother-in-law. They eventually marry, in secret, and when Edward finally fights his way to the kingship, she becomes queen. It’s not a pretty book — they don’t call this the Cousins War for nothing — or a simple one. There’s a huge cast of characters, and it’s full of backbiting, revenge, disinheriting, and infighting, as well as intricate plotting and planning and twisting. There’s no such thing as real loyalty; it’s every man, and every woman, out for him/herself. And at the center of every twist and turn is Elizabeth.
All this twisting and turning has both its pros and cons. It’s good because it keeps the 400-page book moving, and the reader guessing about what is going to happen next, and where on earth it’s all headed. There’s enough plotting and backstabbing and turncoating in the book to entertain just about anyone. But there’s also enough to confuse one, too. I kept flipping back to the beginning where there was a family tree, but it didn’t do much to keep everyone straight in my head. Neither did the Author’s Note at the end, though that at least provided some fascinating historical detail. In the end, I had to put aside all my questions of who, what and where and just throw myself into the novel.
Which worked for a while. But around two-thirds of the way through, about the time that King Edward dies, it all fell apart for me. The mystery of the missing princes that the jacket flap promised, and which sounded so intriguing, was almost an afterthought to the novel. Things unraveled for Elizabeth, as queen, as a person, and yet, somehow, the book kept going. Until, finally, it just stopped. Which, of course, leaves room open for sequels. It’s not a “to be continued”, but it’s only just short of that.
It’s not as tight as some of Gregory’s other books, but there’s much of what her fans have come to love from her in the book. Even if it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, I did enjoy much of it. There’s just something about the scheming and plotting of the English royalty that makes for a good story. And, at the very least, this was that.
Rated: Mild, for some mild language, some mild sexual references and violence.