Aimee's Reviews > The White Queen

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
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's review
Sep 21, 2009

really liked it
Read in September, 2009

Let's get one thing straight before we begin: I have a deep, unconditional love for Philippa Gregory's books. Therefore, I am going to try very hard to write a mostly unbiased review - and I hope you realise how difficult this is for me!

The White Queen is a complete departure from Gregory's usual focus on the Tudors - this time we are taken a generation or two back to when the passionate risk-takers, the Plantagenets, ruled.

The White Queen herself is Elizabeth Woodville, a 27-year old recently-widowed Lady, whose family chose the wrong side in battle. Now an enemy sits on the throne in the form of dashing blonde 22-year old Edward and Elizabeth must capture his attention and beg his forgiveness to reclaim her family's land, which has since become the victor's spoils.

Elizabeth manages to capture his attention, and more...before long they are secretly married. And once the world is told, the two lovebirds sit in great happiness on their thrones. Yet with great power and a rise in social status comes great slander and plotting from those closest to you...this is the beginning of a time when WARS WITHIN WARS were fought - brother against brother, turncoats were the fashion of the day, and the crown was the ultimate goal. The White Queen's perspective in the War of the Roses - what lengths would one go to, to secure the royal title for her next generation?

Ms Gregory has a wonderful way of tangling fiction with reality in her work. Rumours become facts, and The White Queen is no different. Elizabeth's mother, who in history was thought to be a witch, teaches Elizabeth how to bag a man with a river spell. The women of the family line believe they are the descendants of a water witch, Melusina - and the wonderful fable that was the basis of Hans Christian Anderson's the Little Mermaid is woven deep into the story's cloth, giving deeper and more profound meaning to Elizabeth's story and her relationships with others. It appears that Melusina represented the Carl Jung yin and yang theory, where Melusina is analysed as all that is dark, watery and feminine, when masculinity is represented by the warmth of sun and light, hence why Melusina's blood and prophetic powers run through the veins of the women only.

The writing in this book is superior to most historical fiction - in that it is clear and concise like all of Gregory's work to date. She does not focus on the finer details of the life - what the people eat, or what material they wear - the author appears to prefer the inner workings of the mind and the actions which the thoughts produce. I prefer this style as well, though I can see how others may be put off by it. I don't think anyone, however, could say that she is amateur at her craft - there are few who can construct sentences so simple and yet so resonating at the same time.

I have only small complaints with this novel - the main one being that I felt the repetition of particular symbols, whether it was deliberate or not, felt a little strained. While I thoroughly enjoyed the legend of Melusina and her influence on Elizabeth's emotions, I did feel as if everything Elizabeth did had to be borne back to this power. Her ability to see visions of the future leaves a perpetual cloud over the story - I never felt truly joyful for her. Plus, Elizabeth comes across as a bit of an Ice Queen - cold and calculating and ambitious to boot. I couldn't warm to her, and found myself siding with those who stood against her, in particular her daughter.

I also wished the romance in the beginning played out longer! My heart was beating quite fast for them - particularly in a scene in the forest that had shades of Guinevere's meeting with Lancelot. But as Gregory is known to do, even the perfect match-ups get an injection of realism before too long, and I am quite sure she wanted the love story just so.

I dearly loved the supernatural, witchcraft element, as I have already alluded to, and find it fascinating that the powerful women in this family were willing to FLAUNT their Pagan tendencies in a world where it was such a danger to be rumoured to be a witch, let alone almost openly practicing spells and curses! I also was impressed by the battle scenes, which have never really been a stable fixture in any Gregory novel. Those of which I had read before this come from the women's perspective and so would unlikely experience the heat rising from the battlefield ground itself.

Philippa has yet again impressed me with her work - I have noted from some reviews that some Gregory fans don't believe this to be equal to her earlier work, and were disappointed by this latest offering. I can't, however, say the same, because whether or not I have a favourite book of hers (The Boleyn Inheritance, if you're curious), her writing is just so superior to most stuff on the market that I can't help but think it to be wonderful. I spent almost the whole of last night reading this - I was so anxious to see what happened next even though from history one is already aware of the ending (ever heard the mystery of the two princes in the tower?) - it is obviously testament to Gregory's ability at spinning a QUALITY yarn.

For those of you who haven't read anything by Philippa Gregory, I suggest the Boleyn series that was made so popular recently by the movie adaptation The Other Boleyn Girl would be a perfect place to start. Even if you're not mostly interested in history or in princesses, the way the drama unfolds in the story of the Boleyn fam makes it a rollickingly good read for even the most RELUCTANT historian.

As for you seasoned Gregory readers, step into this one with subtle expectations and I assure you, you will be rewarded for your laidback demeanour. This Elizabeth is a strangely wild character - some of you may be able to empathise with her cool and reserved attitude more than I did.

I can't say that this was a joyful, happy and peaceful read - unfortunately these are seldom happily ever after stories. But I loved it anyway because I felt secure that the author had absolute command of the novel and it lends itself to being a COMPLETELY FASCINATING story. And I will be putting in advance orders for the next two, The Red Queen and The White Princess, which should complete the series.

4 completely unbiased stars (I promise!) for The White Queen.
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Jenbrandau341 Thank you for your review Aimee. I enjoy Philippa Gregory's work and am contemplating what to buy with my gift card. I really have been trying to wait for The White Queen to come out in paperback but that's probably going to be a while. I enjoyed your review and appreciate you honesty and open-mindedness. Unfortunately I only want to read it more now! ;)

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