Monday, August 05, 2013

Book review: The White Princess, by Philippa Gregory

Gregory charts the vicissitudes of a high-stakes political marriage in her latest diverting epic.

It’s 1485; the Wars of the Roses have ended, but the victorious Henry VII sits insecurely on his throne. Still mourning her lover, Richard III, Princess Elizabeth of York must wed King Henry to unite their warring houses. Unlike his predecessors, Henry has no personal charm, and the novel excels at depicting his paranoia as royal pretenders pop up and threaten England’s stability.

Kept ignorant of the political scheming around her and caught between her York relations and securing her children’s inheritance, Elizabeth can’t match the dynamism of her mother, Elizabeth Woodville (The White Queen, 2009), or mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort (The Red Queen, 2010), and they occasionally steal the spotlight. Nonetheless, the younger Elizabeth is an observant narrator, and her difficult position reflects historical reality, as does her growing closeness to her beleaguered husband.

The repetitive language will either drive points home for readers or drive them batty, but the novel is as replete with intrigue and heartrending drama as Gregory’s fans expect.

The White Princess was published by Touchstone in hardcover in August ($26.99/Can$29.99, 400pp). Simon & Schuster is the UK publisher (£20.00).  This review first appeared in Booklist's July issue.

Some added remarks:

1 - The White Princess is #10 on the NYT bestseller list for hardcover fiction this week.

2 - This is the fifth novel by Philippa Gregory I've reviewed for Booklist; I've covered all of the books in her Cousins' War series except The White Queen, plus The Other Queen as well.  My favorites are The Red Queen, about Margaret Beaufort, and The Kingmaker's Daughter, about Anne Neville.

3 - I worry I'm becoming repetitive in describing these novels as repetitive, because this is the 3rd review in which I've said something about it, but while I find the stories entertaining, it's distracting when the narrators say the same phrases over and over... and with this book, this begins with the very first paragraph.

4 - Royalty buffs and those following the series will know that Richard III is the uncle of Elizabeth of York and, yes, they're presented as lovers in this book.

5 - The White Queen miniseries begins in the US this coming Saturday.  I'll be watching.


  1. Anonymous9:02 AM

    I just love it when the characters in her books explain to each other exactly who they're talking about in a conversation: "Elizabeth, your uncle, Richard III, left you his second-best helmet. His best helmet is to be buried with Anne Neville, the daughter of the Earl of Warwick and Richard's first wife and mother of his only son, Edward."

    And I may be wrong -- but isn't/wasn't the Tudor Rose RED with a WHITE center, not the other way around?

    1. Yes, you are correct, the Tudor Rose is red with a white center, and it was supposed to represent the children they had as a combining of both houses into one, to end division.
      Ouch, that much explanation of who everyone is and what titles they have has always seemed insulting to me. I can keep them straight, and there's usually a genealogy table in these books for those who can't. I get that there are only a handful of names for the vast amount of people, but just using a title was usually enough (calling Henry Tudor, for example, "Richmond" so you know who he is, prior to being king, since the surname Tudor was not used in his lifetime).

  2. Gregory not only repeats language and descriptions, but plot turns and points. I find myself as a reader resenting this so much, concluding the writer is a lazy writer, and thus have quit reading the author's books.

  3. Anonymous10:42 AM

    "As you may remember from five pages ago, Elizabeth of York, you're the oldest daughter of Edward IV, were in love with your uncle Richard III who died at Bosworth in 1485, and now you're re-re-re-betrothed to Henry Tudor, son of Margaret Beaufort, who's now married to William Stanley. But you also remember that you had two brothers, one of whom you helped smuggle out of sanctuary...Elizabeth? Elizabeth? Get back here, I haven't finished the recap yet -- !"

  4. I've always been puzzled by the switch in style, since her early novels weren't so repetitious and didn't have the "As you know, Bob" statements. At least not that I noticed. It's been a while.

  5. If there was a drinking game where you took a shot every time Elizabeth repeated a question you would have been drunk by chapter 2.

    Drove me CRAZY!

  6. Yes. Repetitive language is a deal-breaker.

  7. Anonymous3:23 PM

    HAHAHAHAHA! These comments express my feelings exactly!!

    Sarah OL

  8. Anonymous7:15 PM

    I gave up on PG after her character continued to say "I'm Joan of arc" Joan of arc...Joan of Arc. She does repeat herself too much and I'm surprised her editors let her get away with it. But her books sell I guess so it doesn't matter. still, I'd rather read something else.