I've had mixed luck with Philippa Gregory, pretty much half and half. It's either amazing or at least very interesting & well-told (The Wideacre t...moreI've had mixed luck with Philippa Gregory, pretty much half and half. It's either amazing or at least very interesting & well-told (The Wideacre trilogy, The Constant Princess) or it's been so-so to downright dull and/or frustrating in a bad way (A Respectable Trade, The Changeling, and THIS ONE.) It's this off-and-on experience that put her back on my to-read list after a rocky start with Trade and keeps her there. She can tell a great story and create unforgettable characters (Wideacre Wideacre Wideacre), but this treatment of Elizabeth of York definitely isn't one of them.
First off, I don't think there is much to be gained by the first person POV, let alone making it present tense. I haven't read the other books in her War of the Roses series, but none of the narrators were ever in the actual thick of things - at least, the interesting things. I don't see how the general tone of all the books could possibly vary. These are royal/aristocratic women who were kept in the domestic sphere and who worry about the menfolk/children and hear about the political gamesmanship and battlefield action secondhand. They indulge in intrigues or converse amongst their own female peers, but the plots and interactions aren't earth-shattering. One book would read like the others, I'm assuming, and thus the rest of the series is very low priority in the TBR.
So, making a very passive person the narrator is a huge problem, as is the present tense, which makes historical fiction read like someone reporting on events in a shallow, list-checking way. It really wasn't dynamic whatsoever. Little excitement.
Rufus conveys my impatience admirably whilst being far more hawt than I
Elizabeth's narrow sphere made such a chunkster very repetitious. Much of the book is about Henry VII's constant fear of pretenders, and I couldn't believe how the phrase "a/this/that/the boy" was used over and over in lieu of names. "The boy" was made into a fearsome spectre for poor, paranoid, illegitimate, throne-seizing Henry - a fine enough device - but MODERATION, PLEASE. A very rough word count shows some form of this "boy" context used about 400 times, give or take a couple dozen. O__o
Gregory has always had some form of repetition in her style, dating back to Wideacre. I think she uses it effectively in some novels, and wields it with lazy carelessness in others, such as this one. The whole book felt lazy, as if she had a historical timeline and a general sense of what she wanted to write, but her mind was almost wholly on something else. Despite being in Elizabeth's head for over 500 pages, I didn't get a sense of her being either 1) interesting, or 2) all that intelligent.
A lot of the conversations simply didn't flow naturally because of infodumps or other characters laying out their psyches on a platter to Elizabeth for the reader's consumption and convenience. Henry told Elizabeth a lot of things that I simply couldn't imagine him being amenable to revealing.
I know that her decision to have Elizabeth and her uncle Richard be a Twu Wuv for All Time has pissed off some readers. (One might think Gregory did that as a deliberate troll of her haters, in which case....lollerskates.) That incesty angle didn't bug me, but the one-note insipidity of it took all the shine off that golden WTF nugget. (Even though I am a very low-key R3 fangirl, even I was tempted to slap him for being such a goody-goody vapid twit in Elizabeth's memories.) Why have it if you're not going to really do anything with it? It was there as an obstacle of resentment between her and Henry, but only in a superficial, unexplored way. There's only so much "our love was perfect" starry-eyed high school notebook scribbling I can take.
Gregory's not averse to making things up out of whole cloth and I respect her for owning it and being the creator of said fictions instead of taking cover under far-fetched auspices, such as psychics or whatever Elizabeth Chadwick uses in lieu of imagination. Gregory's not allergic to flagrant dramatic license, which suits my reading tastes to a T. I know the difference between Fact and Fiction TYVM and don't need to have my fiction adhere to the historical record 100% in order to enjoy it. But her ability to take her juicy red meat ideas and parlay that into a meal I can sink my teeth into has had mixed results. Missed opportunities, which was my general reaction to much of the book. So much potential, all wasted. Or executed half-heartedly.
The one character I did enjoy was Elizabeth Woodville. I particularly liked the scene where her daughter goes up the river on her coronation barge and she, confined to a nunnery, unfurls a York banner. Mama Elizabeth's defiant, giddy delight was vivid and infectious. But moments like that were very few and far between.
Oh well, at least there's a costume porny TV series to come out of this string of books, which I will Netflix as soon as it appears. I'm sure it'll be trashyfunness. (UPDATE 10/11/13: Which I manged to watch already online and OMG most addictive costume porn crack I've seen in a long time. Mad Maggie Beaufort was, like, THE BEST THING EVER.)
I can see this book being liked by those unfamiliar or new to the era or by those more acquainted with the period who are tolerant of Gregory's flaws (*raises hand*), and read with much relish by those in possession of Philippa Gregory rage boners who need to occasionally rub one out. (If it persists for more than four books, please see your librarian.)
As for the next Gregory book I read, it'll be one from earlier in her backlist. I've had more luck way back there.(less)
Bailed at 25%. I have absolutely no idea what I just read. It was all a jumble of people and dialogue that didn't make a lick of sense. Am I missing s...moreBailed at 25%. I have absolutely no idea what I just read. It was all a jumble of people and dialogue that didn't make a lick of sense. Am I missing something? I feel like there's part of a book missing here. The first two chapters had about as much coherency as a bunch of court jesters slapping each other with water weenies and farting glitter.(less)
I think this book would fit into a genre that I will henceforth call "macho historical fluff." What is macho historical fluff?
Might contain any or all...moreI think this book would fit into a genre that I will henceforth call "macho historical fluff." What is macho historical fluff?
Might contain any or all of the following arbitrarily made-up ingredients:
1) Male main characters. 2) Who get up to all kinds of rugged manly stuff. 3) Including drinking and gambling. 4) Oh, and lots of swiving. 5) Some navel-gazing is okay, but don't overdo it. 6) A light and cheeky tone is mandatory. 7) Especially when you're dealing with guys wearing tight velvet pants and curly girly wigs, and swishing swords about. 8) Chicks are there to be bawdy, sweet, or frigid. 9) Testosterone. Testosterone. Testosterone.
And, most importantly,
10) Blowing shit up real good is highly recommended.
As might be obvious at this point, this tale had every single one of these ingredients and it was a raucous little adventure. But any story would be when one of the main characters is John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester. He's quite well-known for his naughty nature.
The story begins with Sir Harry Strang, a minor baronet and cousin to the Wilmot family, coming to London from the countryside and being gobsmacked at the sights of the big city: the beautiful and ugly whores, the squalor, the rude behavior of the citizens, the tensions between defeated Cromwellians and triumphant Stuart stalwarts, and - mostly - by his outrageous cousin Rochester.
The main plot focuses around the young and barely innocent Nell Gwyn, nearly 15 and gagging for experience. Rochester is grooming her for both the theater and the King (as a way to make up for abducting Elizabeth Malet and making a huge sticky scandal), but his rather paternal (for him) plans for her are flushed down the crapper by Mama Gwyn's ex-lover, a fire-breathing Quaker preacher called Pastor Fox.
Fox abducts Nell, and even though he whips her luscious bottom with the rod of correction, Fox really just wants to get her back onto the path of righteousness. Rochester and cousin Harry make it their mission to rescue her, but pretty, witty exhibitionist Nell doesn't make it easy. What a pesky, potty-mouthed virgin.
A subplot revolves around Harry's fish-out-of-water flounderings in degenerate London and his growing infatuation for a member of the Shaking Quakers, Comfort Templegate. He has some issues to grapple with about that, but there's some shit that needs to get blown up and, you know, priorities and all.....
I really, really enjoyed this one. For such a short book, the feel and the attitudes of the times came through loud and clear. The plot contained street fights, noble (or ignoble) pranks, bawdy banter, slumming, racing about trying to stop evil stuff, Harry's growth from country bumpkin to baptized Londoner and loyalist, and capital punishment. It was grim or gross or hilarious, and rarely rang a false note. It was fluff, but realistic fluff. The plot was nutty two-fisted adventure, but the atmosphere was true.
Special kudos for Karol's Rochester, which was one of the best renditions of Wilmot that I've read. He's reckless and crazy, depraved, weirdly principled, brutal, unbowed personally, defeated politically, obnoxiously witty, a confident elite and an insecure braggart.