27 July 2013

Review: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

The White Queen (The Cousins' War #1) by Philippa Gregory

Published: 2008

Pages: 408 (hardcover)

Genre/s: Historical Fiction

Source: Own library


Brother turns on brother to win the ultimate prize, the throne of England, in this dazzling account of the wars of the Plantagenets. They are the claimants and kings who ruled England before the Tudors, and now Philippa Gregory brings them to life through the dramatic and intimate stories of the secret players: the indomitable women, starting with Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.

The White Queen tells the story of a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition who, catching the eye of the newly crowned boy king, marries him in secret and ascends to royalty. While Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for the success of her family, her two sons become central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the missing princes in the Tower of London whose fate is still unknown. From her uniquely qualified perspective, Philippa Gregory explores this most famous unsolved mystery of English history, informed by impeccable research and framed by her inimitable storytelling skills.

My Thoughts

I'm a sucker for historical fiction, but it's rare that I read a book about British Royalty because, to be perfectly honest, the large character lists with their similar names and titles, scare the pants off me.  In fact, The White Queen has sat on my shelves, unread, for about three years and it was only when I saw part of the miniseries currently running on the BBC that I thought it was time to get overmyself and read it.

The White Queen turned out to not be quite as overwhelming as I expected it to be, and sadly, not as good either.   Although the character list is rather long, there wasn't really many times I was confused over who was who, as Gregory does connect each one back to the overall storyline at regular intervals.

What I didn't particularly like about The White Queen was the simplicity of the writing - not in the way that made the book easier to read, but rather, the language made it feel less than authentic.  I can understand that Gregory wanted to make the story of the War of the Roses more accessible to readers who don't necessarily enjoy complicated language and plots, but to me it was so dumbed-down that I just found it frustrating.

As far as the characters go, there were only a few that felt to me like they were fully realised - even the main character, Elizabeth, wasn't 100% convincing and there were a few times when I wanted to reach through the pages and shake her because she was just so bloody single-minded and didn't seem to learn a single thing from mistakes she had made in the past.

The plot itself is based on historical events, but the pacing is quite uneven - there were long periods of plotting and scheming with very little action or information on what was happening outside Elizabeth's immediate surroundings and in the more fast-paced parts, there were large chunks of time missing or skimmed over in favour of more plotting, double-crossing and back-stabbing.  

Despite all my bitching and moaning, I didn't completely dislike The White Queen - I finished it feeling that I knew a great deal more about the Plantagenets and the War of the Roses, and in a way, the simplistic way that the book was written had me turning the pages rather than getting lost and frustrated, but I honestly expected quite a bit more from this book.


  1. I had the same thoughts. I didn't like Elizabeth, but it was interesting to learn more of this time period. Are you planning to read the other books in this series? :)


    1. I started to read the Red Queen and the main character was even MORE annoying than Elizabeth! Maybe one day I'll try it again :)

  2. I haven't heard of this before. I appreciate the honest review.

    1. It could have been so much better *sigh*

  3. I am disappointed. I don't think I've ever read anything by this author, but I have certainly heard of her. I wonder if her other books are better?

  4. I've see Gregory's books everywhere and I've always wanted to try one but it sounds rather disappointing. I still might but I'll borrow it from the library instead. I'm sorry it didn't work out quite as well as you had hoped.

  5. I think this is probably my least favorite of Philippa Gregory's books. Overall I do like her books, especially considering what they've done for this genre. But do think there are so many others that write of this period, that I enjoy so much more than her, but don't have near her type of success.

    Even so, I'm really excited for the miniseries. I think this is such an exciting period in history, I can't wait to see how they pull it off. Of course, I don't have the channel it airs on, so I'm guessing I'll just have to wait till it's released on dvd.



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