Friday, February 7, 2014

Book Review: The Kingmaker's Daughter by Philippa Gregory

The Kingmaker's Daughter (The Cousins' War #4)
The Kingmaker's Daughter by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was rather excited when I learned that Philippa Gregory's novel The Kingmaker's Daughter was to be from the perspective of Anne Neville - that is, daughter of the Earl of Warwick ("the Kingmaker"), widow of Prince Edward of Lancaster, and then later wife of King Richard III. These three events alone provide the premise for a fascinating and truly gripping novel of what it was like for Anne Neville to live right at the heart of the Wars of the Roses.

The story begins when Anne is still a young girl, and Edward IV (of York) has claimed the throne and declared his marriage to the beautiful widow, Elizabeth Woodville. However, when Edward IV proves not to be the puppet king Anne's father, the Earl of Warwick, had planned for him to be, it isn't long before she and her sister, Isabel, become pawns in their father's quest for a replacement. First it is Edward's younger brother, George, the Duke of Clarence, to whom Anne's sister Isabel is married. Then when that doesn't quite go to plan, Warwick seeks out Margaret of Anjou, wife of the deranged Henry VI, and their son, Prince Edward, to whom Anne is quickly wed. But that doesn't quite go to plan, either, and for a long time after Anne is kept hidden by her brother-in-law, the Duke of Clarence. That is until she is swept off her feet by the chivalrous Richard, Duke of Gloucester, youngest brother to Edward IV, and the two marry. Yet it is from this point on that the story seems to lose a lot of its adventure, excitement and glamour.

The truth of the matter, however, is that (historically speaking) there isn't a great deal of information available on Anne Neville's life after her marriage to Richard, and this no doubt would have proved quite a challenge for Gregory to embellish into a novel. I give her points for trying, though, as she takes the reader on a journey that sees a young and bubbly Anne grow into a hardened, bitter and paranoid woman, forever holding onto her father's ambition that she would one day become Queen of England. Yet the story isn't quite fluid; it's all inside Anne's head, which at times is a confusing and depressing place to be, and jumps between seasons and events at alarming speed. The story is brought to a sudden halt with Anne's death in the spring of 1485, when she was just 29 years old. She outlived her son, but not her husband. This makes the story feel unfinished as Anne's later life revolved around her husband, and Richard III would die at the Battle of Bosworth just five months after his wife, bringing to an end the reign of the York kings.

Considering the era in which it is set, I found myself constantly wanting more detail of the Royal Court and of life in 15th Century England, which is something that Gregory does not go to great lengths to paint. However, Gregory does make Anne and Richard likeable and relatable characters with whom the reader can empathise. But The Kingmaker's Daughter is not a particularly cheery story, nor does it have a happy ending, which can lead its reader to feeling rather empty by the end of it all. It is also a novel that would probably be more enjoyable for those readers not overly familiar with the history, who have the luxury of being able to enjoy the story for what it is: Just a story.

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