The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Now is the Spring of this woman's discontent...
Cause, I mean, talk about bitter!
In Philippa Gregory's The Red Queen the prominent historical figure from the War of the Roses period and eventual mother of King Henry VII, Margaret Beaufort is portrayed as one who felt God had destined her for a higher calling, of which she was robbed, and for which she was forever after embittered.
The story follows Margaret from when she was a little girl daydreaming about becoming the next Joan of Arc, an English version of the virginal saint. Historical fiction writer and avid researcher Gregory gives us a probable glimpse into what it might have been like to be a very young, very highly placed lady within the court of England during the 15th Century. A very young lady who is contracted to marriage before she can speak, who is married off by the age of 12 to a man twice her age and who is made to give birth - preferably to a male heir - by the tender age of 13, there is no place in such a girl's life for dreams of Joan of Arc.
While the crux of the story hinges upon the trials of Margaret, it is the War of the Roses, fought between the Houses of Lancaster and of York that moves the action forward in this tale. Without the war, the narrative would bog down into a long-winded list of Margaret's complaints. At times they take a tiresome turn nonetheless. However, Gregory does do an excellent job of building characters, whether it be the complex Margaret or the light but exacting hand with which the author draws up more two dimensional players.
I say "players" because while reading this, one can't help but think of the Shakespeare play King Richard III, being that Richard - that son/sun of York - is such an important figure in this tale. You may remember Richard is not portrayed kindly in the play. In fact, because of that play he is often lumped in with some of the more reviled historical figures ever to soil the Earth. In The Red Queen Richard is given somewhat of a reprieve. Don't get me wrong, you'll still be rooting against him, however, Gregory removes some of the heavy load of pure evil that Shakespeare dumped upon his poor, humped back.
Speaking of dual natures, Margaret herself is not always seen in the best of lights. As a story's heroine, there are times where she is hardly likable. Kudos to Gregory for maintaining character, and thus story, integrity. Tell it like it is and let the chips fall where they may! Sometimes that makes for the best fiction, and The Red Queen, as a historical fiction, definitely ranks right up there!
Rating: 4.5 stars
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