Thursday, February 13, 2014

Book Review: The White Princess by Philippa Gregory

The White Princess (The Cousins' War,  #5)
The White Princess by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What I like most about the novels belonging to Philippa Gregory's Cousins' War series is that with each novel there is a new perspective, and with each new perspective the relationship dynamics between the characters shift, making each story as a whole feel brand new, even though they are all intricately entwined.

The White Princess tells the story of Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of Edward IV and his wife, Elizabeth Woodville. Favourite of King Richard III, Elizabeth is betrothed and then wed to Henry Tudor after Richard's defeat at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. But she is not a favourite in this new royal court, which is dark, paranoid and brooding - a stark contrast to the bright and happy court of her father and uncle. However, Elizabeth's marriage to Henry Tudor (that is, Henry VII) is a political manoeuvre to bind the houses of York and Lancaster together forever, and through this create a new royal House: The Tudors.

Elizabeth of York is presented as an intelligent and devoted young woman who is forced to marry a man she does not like, and who killed her true love, Richard III. However, raised as a royal princess she is acutely aware of the part she must play, and so sacrifices her own happiness for the wellbeing of her country. But her marriage to Henry does not bring about the peace they had hoped for, and rebellions made against the new King in the name of the House of York has devastating consequences for Elizabeth and her kin. Torn between her loyalty to her Tudor and York families, Elizabeth's decisions are not easy ones, especially when rumours are rife that her youngest brother, Richard IV, is alive and preparing to win back their father's crown.

I really liked Elizabeth of York as a character, in particular how Gregory made her faithful, compassionate and forgiving - a contrast to her prior heroines, who were rather conniving and vengeful. Elizabeth, who is not scared of anything or anyone, is the perfect opposite to her wickedly delusional mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort, and a great teacher to her husband, Henry VII, who knows nothing of what it means to be a King of England.

The story that Gregory tells in The White Princess is a believable one, and one that flows far more effortlessly between events than her prior novel, The Kingmaker's Daughter. There weren't really any opportunities for the women of the Cousins' War to have happy endings, but Elizabeth's optimism and resolve manage to provide a silver lining to even her deepest tragedies. It makes it possible for the reader to overlook the historical inaccuracies, ignore the absence of historical detail, and focus on the characters and the story to which they belong.

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