Review: The White Princess by Philippa Gregory

Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Title: The White Princess
Author: Phlippa Gregory
Genre: historical fiction
Series: The Cousins' War #5
Pages: 528 (hardcover)
Published: July 23 2013
Source: publishers provided a finished copy for review
Rating: 3/5

The White Princess opens as the news of the battle of Bosworth is brought to Princess Elizabeth of York, who will learn not only which rival royal house has triumphed, Tudor or York, but also which suitor she must marry: Richard III her lover, or Henry Tudor her enemy.

A princess from birth, Elizabeth fell in love with Richard III, though her mother made an arranged betrothal for her with the pretender to the throne: Henry Tudor. When Henry defeats Richard against all odds, Elizabeth has to marry the man who murdered her lover in battle, and create a new royal family with him and his ambitious mother: Margaret Beaufort, The Red Queen. But, while the new monarchy can win, it cannot, it seems, hold power in an England which remembers the House of York with love.

The new king’s greatest fear is that somewhere, outside England, a prince from the House of York is waiting to invade and re-claim the throne for the house of York. Fearing that none of his new allies can be trusted, Henry turns to his wife to advise him, all the time knowing that her loyalties must be divided. When the young man who would be king finally leads his army and invades England, it is for Elizabeth to decide whether she recognizes him as her brother and a claimant to the throne, or denies him in favor of the husband she is coming to love…

The Cousins' War series continues with the story of Elizabeth of York - granddaughter to Jacquetta Woodville, narrator of Lady of the Rivers (book three in the series), daughter of the protagonist from The White Queen (book one), daughter-in-law to the main character of The Red Queen (book two),  and niece to Anne Neville, the focus of The Kingmaker's Daughter (which is book four). Though the series is not completely told in chronological order (which would consist of The Lady of the Rivers as the first, not third, entry) , Gregory makes it easy to pick up Elizabeth's story and connect it to what has gone on in the novels that preceded her story. 

Gregory is at her best when she writes adult historical fiction, and The White Princess is a strong, if repetitive and slowly-progressing, addition to her long-running series on what was then called the Cousins' War and is now termed The War of the Roses. Following Elizabeth from 1485 when she was the not-so-secret lover to the last Plantagenet King (and her uncle) Richard III to 1499 and the execution of her nephew by her Tudor husband, this detailed historical fiction fleshes out her character moderately well. It's a long book, and while some areas do drag in pace, Gregory gives voice to a woman who is long overlooked in favor of both her lover and then her husband. First person has been hit or miss for this author in the past, but she acquits herself well with the voice and narration of Elizabeth.

Those familiar with Gregory's style will find much the same to offer here in The White Princess.This is an author that knows what works for her, and sticks with it. There's no POV switching or too much subtlety, but there is minute detail and description that works well to foster atmosphere and a real sense of place for the audience. It's an interesting book, but it can be rather dry and slow-going, especially when it takes the author a bit of time to really get the plot moving a long and the characters interacting with one another in meangingful situations. Characters from the other novels play pivotal roles, especially the mothers of both Elizabeth and Henry, so while reading the prior novels isn't required, doing so would prove helpful in order to keep who is who and who wants what and who is against who, etc. straight.

Elizabeth, as the narrator and most defined character, is one of the better aspects to the novel. Her life is a complicated one due to her torn loyalties amongst the factions at her new husband's recently established court. England under Henry Tudor's nascent reign is a snarl of loyalties, families, alliances and betrayal; one that Elizabeth must navigate to help her family survive as losers in the winner's Court. She undergoes a constant tug-of-war between loyalty to the house of her husband and child and that of the house of her father and former lover. Though her relationship with her husband begins roughly (he killed her love, he rapes her to create Arthur), it grows into companionable friendship and creates real struggle for her as her own mother foments rebellion and plots to put another in Henry VII's place.

The White Princess can take turns into harsh territory, especially in regards to the treatment of women. Notably the first interactions between the future King and Queen can be hard to read. Henry, and his formidable mother, are shown in less than flattering light when first shown. It can be hard to grow to like him after the way he mistreats his intended, but Gregory succeeds in eventually portraying him as more than he appeared. Constantly wracked by suspicion and fear, her Henry VII is a complex and unpredictable man. You may not like him as a character, but you cannot deny that he is more than a one-dimensional character. Where she might lack in suspense and plotting, Gregory has proven her characterization is top-notch and lends well to creating interesting, well-defined versions of historical personages.

This is a series that just continues to grow. The White Princess ends with 10 years left in the reign of the fist Tudor king, and with a sixth book due out (The Last Rose), Gregory's novelization of the War of the Roses will continue - likely from another character's point of view. Fans of this author will find more to enjoy with her latest effort, and it stands as a rather solid entry in her bibliography. With a Starz tv show centered around this series, I only expect it to find a wider audience in the future, and have faith that the author can keep up at the same level.

1 comment:

  1. I've been super iffy about starting this series... I really loved her Tudors series though. I do own the first one though so maybe it'll happen someday. Great review though :)


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