Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review: The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

Touchstone, August 2010
Hardcover, 400 pages
ISBN-10: 1439197172
ISBN-13: 9781439197172

Heiress to the red rose of Lancaster, Margaret Beaufort never surrenders her belief that her house is the true ruler of England and that she has a great destiny before her. Her ambitions are disappointed when her sainted cousin Henry VI fails to recognize her as a kindred spirit, and she is even more dismayed when he sinks into madness. Her mother mocks her plans, revealing that Margaret will always be burdened with the reputation of her father, one of the most famously incompetent English commanders in France. But worst of all for Margaret is when she discovers that her mother is sending her to a loveless marriage in remote Wales.

Married to a man twice her age, quickly widowed, and a mother at only fourteen, Margaret is determined to turn her lonely life into a triumph. She sets her heart on putting her son on the throne of England regardless of the cost to herself, to England, and even to the little boy. Disregarding rival heirs and the overwhelming power of the York dynasty, she names him Henry, like the king; sends him into exile; and pledges him in marriage to her enemy Elizabeth of York's daughter. As the political tides constantly move and shift, Margaret charts her own way through another loveless marriage, treacherous alliances, and secret plots. She feigns loyalty to the usurper Richard III and even carries his wife's train at her coronation.

Widowed a second time, Margaret marries the ruthless, deceitful Thomas, Lord Stanley, and her fate stands on the knife edge of his will. Gambling her life that he will support her, she then masterminds one of the greatest rebellions of the time—all the while knowing that her son has grown to manhood, recruited an army, and now waits for his opportunity to win the greatest prize.

In a novel of conspiracy, passion, and coldhearted ambition, number one bestselling author Philippa Gregory has brought to life the story of a proud and determined woman who believes that she alone is destined, by her piety and lineage, to shape the course of history.
Had you asked me about The War of the Roses several months ago, I would have described a particularly funny scene from the movie with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas (you know the the dinner party?). Now, after reading The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory, I see that there was in fact a different War of the Roses.

My only previous experience with Philippa Gregory was reading The Other Boleyn Girl a few years ago, so I had an idea of what to expect. What I wasn't expecting was the humour involved in The Red Queen. Ok, so maybe what I found funny wasn't meant to be but the characterization of this little 9 year old girl, Lady Margaret, thinking she is the next Joan of Arc just struck a chord with me. I could picture the self-sacrificing attitude, the super-holy beliefs of Lady Margaret vividly.

It is this, I think, that draws me most to Gregory's writing. She takes a historical figure, though one not quite as famous as say Richard III or Henry VIII, and gives them life. She makes them a three dimensional figure for us and brings their stories to the forefront instead of the back seat role they have played for centuries. Of course, not all is historically accurate but the richness of the characters make you want to research more of the "real" story (yes, I wiki'd Lady Margaret).

The relationship between Lady Margaret and Lord Stanley was the most interesting part, neither truly knowing whether to trust the other. I could have done without a particular scene involving Jasper Tudor and Lady Margaret, it didn't seem to flow with the rest of the story though it did serve to highlight Margaret's commitment to her cause.

My only regret was that I hadn't read The White Queen first; there were many references to Elizabeth Woodville that I would have understood better if I had. It definitely did not take away from the story at all and I have every intention to go back and read The White Queen...along with the rest of the books in The Tudor series! Overall, The Red Queen is another great work of historical fiction.


Stella (Ex Libris) said...

Fantastic reviewe Jackie! And I agree with you: Philippa Gregory is unimitable with making historical characters real, human and accessible persons. Even if her books are not literary masterpieces, they are extremely enjoyable to the reader because it transports the reader back in time and the whole era comes into reality.

You should definitely read The White Queen, I liked it even better than The Red Queen!

And do you know that Philippa Gregory will write the story of Princess Elizabeth (The White Princess) and of Jacquetta, mother of the White Queen)?

Jackie said...

Stella - I have White Queen on my wishlist for sure but think I'll work on the other books in the Tudor series first. I had read somewhere about the next book )probably on Philippa Gregory's website); the Woodvilles sound like they were an interesting family! I've also started watching The Tudors on TV and have branched out into historical books from that time period. It's addictive! Thanks for stopping by :-)

Bookish in a Box said...

I haven't read The Red Queen, but I've enjoyed Philippa Gregory's other novels. Sounds like this is a good one!

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