I'm not Philippa Gregory's biggest fan, but I have enjoyed some of her books like The Constant Princess and The Boleyn Inheritance, while I thought books such as The Other Boleyn Girl were overrated. Gregory's talent of weaving history into a racy, thrilling plot is definitely the main reason I keep going back to her books, even if I don't think they are the best books ever.
The White Queen is proof again of why Gregory is definitely a master at her field. The story of Elizabeth Woodwille, a Lancastrian widow who marries King Edward IV of York and lives through the War of the Roses, is narrated at a swift pace that makes it a great page-turner. The ingredient that makes for most of her novels is in place here too: a strong, feisty heroine fighting to keep herself and her children victorious.
Elizabeth Woodwille is a ruthless, ambitious, often unforgiving woman with many a grudge to hold. She cares about nobody except herself, her family and her husband. She is often not at all easy to like. Yet, I found myself sympathising with her several times for being a lone woman, standing strong and fighting for herself and her children. For all her cunning, wicked and sly behaviour, when it comes to her children, Elizabeth is remarkably loving and emotional:
'I am not nursing him for the sake of York, I am nursing him for love. I do not want him to thrive to be a prince. I want him to thrive to be a strong boy. This is my baby boy. I cannot bear to lose him as I lost his sister.'
This book is set in a period strewn with wars, which can make the tale boring if not portrayed in the right doses, which Gregory does here. The characters in the book are scheming all the time with one often looking for just the opportunity to overthrow the other. This is of course a scenario that gets tedious at times, especially if you can't really sympathise with one 'side' or the other. The fable of Melusina, the water goddess, is also woven into this book in a way that adds to the mystique element of the story without seeming too pointless.
I went into this book knowing next to nothing about the Wars of the Roses or indeed even the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, both of which are skilfully narrated in the story. Gregory brings history to life and spices it up with witty exchanges and interesting dialogues. By the time I finished the book, I was looking forward to reading more about the Plantagenets and the House of York. Gregory, in her author's note, explains clearly the factual and fictional portions of her book which is helpful for the reader who is a novice in this period of history.
I definitely enjoyed reading The White Queen and would certainly recommend it to fans of historical fiction. The Plantagenets are just as interesting as the Tudors and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of Gregory's books about them.