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The White Queen, Philippa Gregory (book review and recommendation)



My illustration ( make up on paper)
Moja ilustracija (šminka na papiru)





Today we're going to talk about The White Queen by Philippa Gregory. I can't say that this illustration was made to represent the main character in the book, but I have made it after reading this novel so perhaps in a way I was influenced by it on some level. I'm often inspired by mythology and I certainly enjoyed the mythological aspect of this novel. Let's talk about this novel then! I’ve heard good things about Philippa Gregory so far, a number of friends recommended her novels, yet I also remember reading some criticism about her work that made me hesitant to look her up. However, recently while I was browsing my bookshelves, I came across one of her books. I’m not sure where it came from, but I decided to give it a go.  I had one free afternoon, I was in bed with fever, so I said, why not give it a try? I took me a few hours to read it and I really enjoyed the reading process. I gave it 3/5 stars on goodreads and I really think it is a good book. So, here it is my review as published there.




This was my first Philippa Gregory novel and I liked it better than I expected I would. The first few chapters didn't look too promising, but as the story unfolded I found myself fascinated with it, so I won't complain too much about the soap opera introduction, as horrid as it was (and it was pretty horrid. There were literally lines in this novel that seemed to have been copied from the romance novels). Fortunately, the story got better with time. The writing is lacking in more ways than one, but I still consider it a good historical novel.


Its historical accuracy is questionable, but one can see that the writer at least did some research. Anyway, just by reading it, one is bound to soak up at least some historical facts so bonus points for possibly helping some student pass some exam. There is always that question of what we can really be certain about when it comes to historical events, so I won't say anything against the way this author seems to prefer scandalous gossip over more established historical facts. After all, it is supposed to be fiction and we can't blame her for wanting to make her novels more interesting and juicy gossip can't hurt in this sense. I'm not against historical fiction as such, as long as it is not taken too seriously. Novels like this one can get people interested in history and even make people research the time period in question and that's always a good thing. In the past few years, I was frustrated by a number of cheesy historical novels but not this one. It was a very enjoyable read and it kept me entertained for those few hours it took me to read it. So, I'm willing to forgive it for its flaws. 

“If there is love enough,then nothing-not nature, not even death itself- can come between two who love each other.” ― Philippa GregoryThe White Queen

I'm not sure if first person narration was the best choice for this novel not just because it made storytelling about certain events difficult but because I felt like the author wasn't able to master it fully. The White Queen is certainly an interesting character, but I think she is not as well developed as she could have been. Her love for the English king is not explored in depth and one wonders what is the cause of it. The relationship between the two of them and the love they feel for each other is almost never questioned. There are some arguments taking place between them towards the end of the story, but these short dialogues were not credible at all. That love at first glance thing was written very badly from the very start. It seems very unlikely, especially taken the way their love develops.



I never had a feeling I could see our protagonist clearly, despite the fact that she was an active participant in most of the events taking place. A number of times, Gregory suggests that our protagonist could be motivated by power lust not just by her desire to protect her loved ones yet she leaves it all hang there. I'm not against ambiguous characters, but one must have skill to be able to write them. Sophistication wasn't used in creating this character, nor in portraying it. The author managed to make me interested in what happens to the main character, but she didn't get me to feel for her deeply. Who is she really? A loving wife and mother? Or an ambitious queen willing do to what it takes to keep the throne? A few times, she makes candid remarks about herself and her obvious desire for power, yet it all stays at that. Everyone wants power, so do I, the white queen seems to reason. That's all fine, but why not show us a bit more of her soul, her desires and so on?

“You're not cursed daughter, you are the finest and rarest of all my children, the most beautiful, the most beloved. You know that. What curse could stick to you?' The gaze she turns on me is darkened with horror as if she has seen her own death.'You will never surrender, you will never let us be. Your ambition will be the death of my brothers, and when they are dead you will put me on the throne. You would rather have the throne than your sons.” ― Philippa GregoryThe White Queen

One relationship that was captured well was the relationship between the protagonist and her mother. Gregory seems to have the ability to capture relationships between women pretty well and this saves their characterization from becoming two dimensional. In this novel, I quite liked the way the relationships between women were handled. That added depth to the story and made the motivation of the character much more credible. The conflicts and the arguments between women were the best written parts of the novel. Nevertheless, I had some issues with individual characterization of woman, most of our protagonist. Moreover, if our writer is lacking in depth when it comes to portrayal of women, she doesn't even make an attempt to portray men in dept. Besides the angelic and godly brother Anthony, a favourite of our protagonist, all the other men are depicted as blood hungry and power driven. It is hard to understand why women that love them do so. Perhaps they really don't, but the author never got so far. Had she done that, she could have created a wonderful ambiguity to the story. This way we have imperfect but basically good heroines who love horrible murdering men. It just doesn't add up. Sure, among nobility, those features were present, but wouldn't it be nice to add some more character to them. 



I liked the introduction of black magic and pagan beliefs in the story. They were well worked into the characters, if not into the story itself. In the story, these two elements often felt out of place. In addition, I think it is highly unlikely that the women practicing magic (The White Queen and her) mother) would talk so openly about it. It is also a bit surprised that the author decided to made the magic a driving force in the novel. It is my personal opinion if would be better if she had left it open to interpretation. However, I must admit that it made the novel more interesting. While it didn't work best in the context of the story, it still managed to add interest and spark to the writing that seemed to lack both.

“In the darkness of the forest he saw her, and whispered her name, Melusina, and at that summoning she rose out of the water and he saw that she was a woman of cool and complete beauty to the waist, and below that she was scaled, like a fish. She promised him that she would come to him and be his wife, she promised him that she would make him as happy as a mortal woman can, she promised him that she would curb her wild side, her tidal nature, that she would be an ordinary wife to him, a wife that he could be proud of; if he in return would let her have a time when she could be herself again, when she could return to her element of water, when she could wash away the drudgery of a woman’s lot and be, for just a little while, a water goddess once more. She knew that being a mortal woman is hard on the heart, hard on the feet. She knew that she would need to be alone in the water, under the water, the ripples reflected on her scaly tail now and then. He promised her that he would give her everything, everything she wanted, as men in love always do. And she trusted him despite herself, as women in love always do.” ― Philippa GregoryThe White Queen

Gregory did a good job of portraying the society of the time. It may not be all completely historically accurate and her characters might not reflect the culture and behaviour of the time, yet she managed to create a certain atmosphere and sustain it during the narrative. She created a world that is violent, uncertain and turbulent. She got that feeling of paranoia down perfectly. I think she got better and better in this sense as the story developed. There was repetition in her writing and there were some flaws in her narrative, but on overall, it felt like good historical fiction.

To conclude, I quite enjoyed reading this one. I don't think the author managed to realize its full potential, but I'm giving her credit for attempting to turn such a complex historical period into a novel in the first place. I was left with an impression there were some loose ends and that the novel could have been developed further in more ways than one. Still, it was an interesting read, especially towards the end. It was clear that the writer put both time and effort into developing this story. 
 It is not one of those life-changing books, but there are bits of wisdom in there. I felt like I've learned something from this book, even if I'm not sure what. Her writing isn't great, but it isn't terrible either, so if historical fiction is your thing, give her a try. This isn't a great work of literature, but it is a pretty decent page-turner.

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