Star rating 6/10
Historical fiction is not the sort of book that I usually read. To own up, I used to love Jean Plaidy’s bodice rippers as a young girl, particularly the Tudor stories. But I thought I would give the genre another try following a glowing personal recommendation. And it is a breath of fresh air to have to focus of attention moved away by Phillippa Gregory from the Tudors themselves, this time to their immediate predecessors, the Plantagenets.
Elizabeth Woodville is not a widely known historical figure. She was born a commoner and on the Lancastrian side of the Wars of the Roses, but fell in love with the young and dashing Yorkist King Edward IV. They seemed to be equally enchanted with each other, although she, in this version at least, lures him into her beautiful clutches by witchcraft and spells. It is nice to have a feisty heroine – Elizabeth turns Edward’s dagger back on himself when he tries to seduce her out of wedlock. There is no evidence that this cheeky maneouvre actually happened, but it is a pleasing, if somewhat far fetched thought that this attack on the battle hardy King actually flamed the fires of his passion even further.
Elizabeth doesn’t have an easy time of being queen, and is seemingly pregnant again at every turn of the page. Her enemies are constantly plotting against her. Edward’s brothers are plotting against him for the crown. Her husband is lucky in battle, but eventually succumbs to illness and she is left to battle on alone for the sake of her children. She is of course the mother of the ill fated princes in the Tower.
Gregory’s attention to detail is second to none, and the bits of the story that she makes up are perfectly enjoyable. But I didn’t feel the need to be so signposted to what was to come. For example, her unexplained dread of the Tower, and her fears for her sons are all too obvious, and unnecessary nods to the tragedy that we know is to come. And in the main Gregory gets the language right. One notable exception is when she says to her daughter, also Elizabeth, ‘Nobody gets to be Queen of England by being loveable. You will have to play your cards right.’ That sounds to me to be more Bruce Forsyth than Plantagenet England, but maybe that’s just me being picky.
I enjoyed the romp, but I felt the witchcraft theme to be a bit overplayed. I liked the way Elizabeth is portrayed as strong, determined and beautiful, but I didn’t really buy all the spells. So in places it was a page turner, but like a Chinese take away, it left me feeling a bit empty when I had finished it. Time for more substantial fare for a while I think.