Saturday, 20 November 2010

A book a week in 2010: The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

What happens to a girl who is told, from a young age, that she is the sole chance for her family to be restored to the throne?

Margaret Beaufort is heiress to the House of Lancaster. Married off at the age of twelve to the king's half-brother, Edmund Tudor, she soon bears a son, Henry, thus fulfilling her destiny. But the path to their divine right is strewn with the live bodies of their York cousins.

Firstly, Edward IV - with his beautiful wife Elizabeth Woodville - rule for many successful years, producing two sons. Then, when Edward dies, his brother Richard III takes control. Margaret wheels and deals through the years; forging and breaking alliances with friends and foes; raising a rebellion; wholly focused on her duty to ensure Henry ascends the throne.

The Red Queen is a parallel tale to Gregory's first in 'The Cousins' War' series, The White Queen. Where that was centred around the love between Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville that drove the success of a dynasty, this is the story of a lonely, bitter woman, much maligned by those around her. Subject to religious fervour, she channels all that might break another woman into achieving her God-given goal.

I wasn't as enamoured with The Red Queen. That's not the fault of the writing, historical detail or plot: it's the characters. Margaret is just not as likeable as Edward or Elizabeth. It's hard to care what happens to her.

But perhaps that's the point. This wasn't the finest point in English history. And life was pretty brutal for an independently-minded woman.

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