The UK edition of Philippa Gregory’s latest release has the tagline, The girl who would be queen. Not The girl whose father would that she were queen....moreThe UK edition of Philippa Gregory’s latest release has the tagline, The girl who would be queen. Not The girl whose father would that she were queen. Gregory veers away from the traditional depiction of Anne Neville as meek and mild, a pawn in the political games of her father, Warwick the Kingmaker. Anne begins her narration as a naive eight-year-old growing up in the shadow of her beautiful older sister Isabel. But like most medieval noble daughters, who were often married in their early teens or even before, she has to grow up fast. Warwick wants one of his daughters to be Queen of England – and he doesn’t care which one. Fortune’s Wheel spins wildly throughout this book, and Anne and Isabel are rarely at the top of it at the same time. Gregory is in her element with the depiction of sisterly rivalry against a background of court intrigue – it’s the same recipe that made The Other Boleyn Girl a worldwide bestseller. She is an expert in portraying the claustrophobia of court life: the constant fear and insecurity which were inseparable from rank and power in the turbulent fifteenth century.
The Kingmaker’s Daughter covers twenty years in the Wars of the Roses from Anne’s point of view (first-person, present tense). Although it is the fourth in the Cousins’ War series, it can be read as a standalone novel, as Gregory does not assume any knowledge of the period on the part of her readers. As Anne grows to adulthood, she learns more about the world she lives in, and the reader can learn with her. This would make a good introduction to the Wars of the Roses or to historical fiction. Although not aimed specifically at the YA market, with Anne a teenager for much of the book, I felt it was a natural fit for a YA audience.
While I enjoyed the characterisation of Anne herself and also of Richard III – he’s very far from Shakespeare’s villain but no milquetoast either – I felt other aspects of the book were underwritten. Elizabeth Woodville, queen of Edward IV and heroine of The White Queen, is a malign presence throughout this book, but although she functions effectively as an absent influence, I would have liked to read at least one meaty confrontation between her and Anne. Not necessarily an Alexis Colby/Krystle Carrington-style catfight – given the extent of Queen Elizabeth’s power Anne would hardly be likely to shove her into a lilypond however much she might want to. But I would have liked to read a long, in-depth conversation between them where both women would put at least some of their cards on the table – or pretend to. Equally, at one point in the book Anne discovers that her husband has been rather less than honest with her about certain legal aspects of their marriage. The information comes as a shock for her and I was disappointed that she never brings it up with him.
Notwithstanding, The Kingmaker’s Daughter is a fast, entertaining read which should please – and add to – Philippa Gregory’s many fans.
As she began work on this 1943 saga, du Maurier told her publisher, Victor Gollancz, that it would be 'endless, full of birth and death, and love and...moreAs she began work on this 1943 saga, du Maurier told her publisher, Victor Gollancz, that it would be 'endless, full of birth and death, and love and disaster.' Especially disaster. The story begins in 1820 as Copper John, patriarch of the Anglo-Irish Brodrick family, prepares to mine Hungry Hill for copper. Unfortunately, he neglects to ask permission of the hill first, and for the next hundred years, malevolent as Caradhras, it visits its vengeance on one generation of the family after another.
The book, while long by wartime standards - the first British edition has tiny print and incredibly narrow margins - isn't long enough for a chronicle of five generations. Successive family members are born and rapidly grow up only to be whisked from the scene by the latest catastrophe, which has often been telegraphed pages in advance. The men, apart from Copper John, are flawed and weak; the women are stronger, but overwhelmed by circumstances. By the beginning of part four I was wishing the Balrog would just come out of the mountain and put them all out of their misery.
(view spoiler)[Disaster strikes early as Copper John's heir, Henry, dies abroad of tuberculosis. That leaves his brother John as master of the mine - until he dies of diptheria. Fortunately he doesn't give it to the children, but that doesn't help the eldest, Johnnie, who dies of drink in his mid-twenties. The next heir, Hal, is repudiated by his father and subsequently falls down the mineshaft. The women don't fare much better. Copper John's daughter Jane is killed at eighteen in a mudslide orchestrated by her own father (don't ask). Her sister-in-law Fanny-Rosa, whom we first meet as a wild beauty who strips down to go skinny dipping whenever she feels like it, turns to compulsive gambling and finishes her days in an asylum. Her daughter-in-law Katherine dies in childbirth. (hide spoiler)]
However, this was exactly where the book started to pick up for me. Du Maurier's most powerful novels focus on a single drama played out among a small number of characters, and are written in the first person. Hungry Hill has a vast cast, a wide scope and third-person narration. Towards the end of the book, when the narrative concentrates on telling the story of the last days of the mine and of the impact of its closure on the community, it becomes much more compelling. This is a novel about decline and decay, a theme all too relevant to a twentieth-century readership who had lived through two world wars and the Great Depression and were about to witness the final days of the British Empire. It's not exactly the escapist commercial read critics condemned it as, but neither is it as good as it could have been. Like the mine itself, it's an ambitious undertaking which suffers from fluctuating fortunes and in the end, fails to pay off as richly as hoped.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)