Saturday, 21 August 2010

Book Review: The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

Title: The Red Queen
Author: Philippa Gregory
Pages: 400
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
ISBN: 1847374573
Source: Received for review from Simon & Schuster UK

For more information visit Philippa Gregory's website

Grade: 4 stars

Novellus superbus!
Goodreads appetizer: The second book in Philippa's stunning new trilogy, The Cousins War, brings to life the story of Margaret Beaufort, a shadowy and mysterious character in the first book of the series - The White Queen - but who now takes centre stage in the bitter struggle of The War of the Roses.

The Red Queen tells the story of the child-bride of Edmund Tudor, who, although widowed in her early teens, uses her determination of character and wily plotting to infiltrate the house of York under the guise of loyal friend and servant, undermine the support for Richard III and ultimately ensure that her only son, Henry Tudor, triumphs as King of England.

Through collaboration with the dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret agrees a betrothal between Henry and Elizabeth's daughter, thereby uniting the families and resolving the Cousins War once and for all by founding of the Tudor dynasty.

My thoughts: The Red Queen is the second book in Philippa Gregory's new historical series about the Plantagenet royal house. It is narrated by Margaret Beaufort, heir to the House of Lancaster through the descendants of Kathryn Swynford, life-long mistress and later 3rd wife to John of Gaunt (due to which many people claims that the York's claim to the throne was more valid as they are not descendants of "royal bastards"), but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Margaret is a very serious and religious woman, the novel starts with her praying at age 10 and having a vision of Joan of Arc, which connection to the warrior virgin and saint will accompany her all through the book.

There's no doubt that the real Margaret Beaufort had to be a strong, powerful, quite independent and very ambitious woman in her time, she wouldn't have been able to put her son on the throne of England otherwise; but Philippa Gregory really took on quite a challenge by writing a book told from Margaret's point of view as she is a very displeasing character.

It is not her overzealous religious beliefs which bothered me, it was the opposite: that despite always stressing and repeating what a religious person she is, she acts nothing like one: she is vain, self-centered, willful, uncharitable and always jealous. If she truly were such a good person, someone who God favoured because of her sacrifices and good and exemplary behaviour, she would not be cruel, envious and vindictive. All through the novel she wants to be recognized by people and God, she wants to be revered and even feared, she begrudges Elizabeth's Woodville her remarkable beauty, her love with her husband the king, her fertility and many children, how the people love her and most of all her position as queen. A truly religious person would not care for such worldly details and especially not always stew in her own envy and jealousy. Margaret Beaufort certainly had a very hard and loveless life, but she is a very hard, bitter woman quite without any feeling. Even her relationship with her one and only son is nonexistant, not because he spends his life away from her, but because she feels no love for him, only that it is her mission to make him king. She even expressly states this at the end of the book: that if her son would not have had to become king, she would not have cared for him.

With that said, it must be recognized, that Philippa Gregory outdid herself. The Red Queen is truly superior to The White Queen in both the writing style and story telling. The story flows on freely, the tiring and frustrating repetitions which one could often find in the White Queen have disappeared or are not that obvious, and Philippa Gregory does not break character for Margaret Beaufort, she remains constant and unchanging.

Verdict: One cannot review or talk about The Red Queen and not compare it to the first book The White Queen, as even Margaret Beaufort cannot help but always compare herself and her life to that of Elizabeth Woodville's. While Elizabeth is a much more engaging and charming character, Margaret's life is an equally interesting one, especially seeing how she succeeded in making her son king of England almost all on her own. While The White Queen is more romantic and has more of a fairy tale feel to it, The Red Queen is the  superior novel.

I'm looking forward to reading the next books in the Plantagenet series, which is planned to have 6 books (the next two will be about Elizabeth Woodville's mother Jacquetta of Luxembourg and Elizabeth Woodville and King Edward's daughter: Elizabeth of York, the White Princess).

Plot: 8/10
Characters: 7/10
Ending: 7/10
Writing: 8/10
Cover: 9/10

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