Here’s another historical fiction novel by Philippa Gregory for you folks. Sorry if you’re getting tired of reviews of these. She’s one of my favorite authors, and I read a lot of her books. In fact, I may be reading another one in this series very soon, so you’ll just have to bear with me!
The Red Queen tells the story of Lady Margaret Beaufort, a noble woman of the Lancaster line who lived at the beginning of the War of the Roses. Margaret believes that she is chosen by God to land her son Henry on the throne of England, and spends decades plotting the overthrow of the House of York to place him there. She is conniving and immensely frustrating in her hypocrisy. The novel details the same set of events that happen in The White Queen, but are told from the other side. The heroine of The White Queen becomes the villain in this novel, and the new perspective offered gives the reader the same feeling of bewilderment and anxiety that must have been felt by those caught in the middle of these true historical events. Of course, Gregory fills in gaps where history has lost details (like the two York princes locked in the Tower of London, whose fate remains unknown to this day), and embellishes facts to create interesting fiction. In doing so, she brings to life people who have been dead for centuries, and makes their lives interesting and significant again.
Margaret is a character the reader loves to hate. She is difficult to like, and the reading is much more enjoyable and challenging for that. She is stubborn, proud, infuriatingly hypocritical, and so convinced that she has been chosen by God that she is willing to risk the lives of others and essentially ruin her own life to enact what she believes to be His will. Her duplicity causes her to make and break promises in an unrepentant manner, believing herself to be correct in all things and above all others. The tragedy of the novel is that she sacrifices years of her own happiness and that of her child to reach this goal that she believes has been set out for her by God. Though she is wealthy and powerful and has a son that she loves, her eyes overlook these blessings and focus only on the throne of England.
Gregory does a fine job of drawing the reader into the cause. Although she is awful, and opposed to the heroine that the reader rooted for in the last book, one cannot help but hope that she will achieve her goal. It is difficult to witness, even in fiction, someone so single-mindedly and viciously tear their lives apart, as well as the lives of others. The closing scenes, which detail Henry’s final battle for the throne, are especially tense and engaging. Gregory’s fine and detailed narration of the conflicts showcase perfectly both her vast historical knowledge and skillful storytelling. I enjoyed this novel more than many of her others, and believe that any fan of the author or the genre will enjoy it as well.