Review – The King’s Curse

The King’s Curse (The Cousins’ War No.6) – Philippa Gregory

Simon & Schuster, 2014

Margaret Pole was born a Plantagenet, one of the old ruling family of England displaced by the conquering Tudors. Once an heiress to a great fortune and niece to two kings, she now hides her royal name behind marriage to an unassuming knight and buries her grief and ambition with her executed brother. But fortune’s wheel has barely begun turning for Margaret. Whatever name she and her children bear, they will always be Plantagenets. And no one will ever forget it.

This final volume in Gregory’s epic Cousins’ War series was every bit as heartbreaking, infuriating and fascinating as I expected, and then some, following the life of another extraordinary woman living through massive upheaval. The way Gregory has written this series allows layers of depth and meaning – so many perspectives leading through wars, marriages and betrayals, to one hell of a finale. The Tudor Court novels take up where the Cousins’ War leaves off, beginning with The Constant Princess. I intend to devour them all.

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Review – The White Princess

The White Princess (The Cousins’ War No.5) – Philippa Gregory

Simon & Schuster, 2013

Once the name of York belonged to kings, a name to speak with pride. With the death of Richard III, however, and the ascension of Henry Tudor to the throne of England, royal blood is no longer an advantage. Compelled into marriage with the new king to cement his place on the throne, Princess Elizabeth of York must tread a fine line to survive. Henry has won a kingdom but keeping it is another matter, because plots simmer under the surface of his court and hopes still grow for a York prince, returned from the dead…

This is the penultimate instalment of Gregory’s Cousins War series, set during the Wars of the Roses. Each part of the series has followed a different player during that tumultuous period of English history. The first book, The White Queen, was about Elizabeth Woodville; The White Princess is about her eldest daughter. And it was hard to read, quite devastating actually – the skill of Philippa Gregory is that even when the novel took me to dark and terrible places I couldn’t stop reading, I had to know what happened next, even though I mostly knew what would happen next. The series concludes with The King’s Curse.

Review – The Kingmaker’s Daughter

The Kingmaker’s Daughter (The Cousins War No.4) – Philippa Gregory

Simon & Schuster, 2013

Originally published in 2012

It is 1465 and while the crown may rest upon the handsome head of young King Edward, everyone knows the real power behind the throne is the Earl of Warwick. When Edward defies his plans by marrying for love, Warwick must look elsewhere for the fulfillment of his ambition. He plans marriages for his two daughters, Isabel and Anne, promising each girl greatness. Only one, however, can be Queen of England. And the way to the throne demands its toll in blood.

I found my copy in the gorgeous bookshop Archives while poking around some of Brisbane’s oldest buildings, and enthused passionately about women of the Cousins War to the very patient shop assistant. Gregory has created something extraordinary with this series – the same events have been covered three times over by now but with each protagonist’s different perception they become brand new, the heroine of one story becoming the villain of another. Anne Neville is introduced as a little girl and Gregory nails the complexity of emotion, particularly between the competitive sisters as they grow up. The Cousins War continues with The White Princess.

Review – The Lady of the Rivers

The Lady of the Rivers (The Cousins War No.3) – Philippa Gregory

Simon & Schuster, 2011

The year is 1430. The English rule half of France and the French king’s most famous soldier has just been caught: the one they call the Maiden, Joan of Arc. Her death is a reminder to every woman watching that this is a world ruled by men. Born into wealth and trained into the elegant ideal of a noblewoman, Jacquetta of Luxembourg exists in a different world to Joan – but she too has a birthright, as a descendant of the water goddess Melusina, and no woman with such powers can ever trust she is safe. When she marries into the English royal family, she must learn to walk a balance between knowledge and denial – or fall to her death.

I am more than a little in love with this series. Jacquetta is a little-known but significant historical figure – mother of Elizabeth Woodville, great-great-grandmother of Queen Elizabeth I – and it’s fascinating, seeing how her story fits into a larger picture of the turbulent times. Gregory weaves in a thread of fantasy, which I like, but doesn’t overdo it. The Cousins War continues with The Kingmaker’s Daughter.

Review – The Red Queen

The Red Queen (The Cousins War No.2) – Philippa Gregory

Simon & Schuster, 2010

Originally published 1997

Margaret Beaufort is a girl born for great things. Denied political power despite her royal lineage, she takes refuge in piety and fantasises about a life of glory like that of Joan of Arc. Such dreams are tested when she’s married against her will at the age of twelve and sent to live far from everything she knows. Jasper Tudor is not a loving husband, nor is King Henry VI’s England a peaceful land. In a time when the authority of the crown is challenged like never before, Margaret has a chance to seize her dues – but she may have to sacrifice everything to get there.

Sequel to The White Queen, this book follows the journey of another female powerbroker during the Wars of the Roses, and a very different lady she is! There’s not much to like about Margaret, to be honest, but she’s written with such care and nuance that it’s easy to see how she became the person she did. She’s certainly fascinating to read about, as are the cast of people who surround her. I’m enjoying this series enormously. It continues with The Lady of the Rivers.

Review – The White Queen

The White Queen (The Cousins War No.1) – Philippa Gregory

Simon & Schuster, 2009

As the war for the English throne rages between the rival dynasties of York and Lancaster, those who have chosen the losing side must take wild gambles. Elizabeth Woodville lost her husband in the defence of Lancaster; now she must appeal to the generosity of the newly crowned York king, Edward. To attract his goodwill she has only her beauty and the blessing in her blood, as a descendant of the water goddess Melusina. Edward is fascinated by the proud widow, but by aligning her life with his, Elizabeth is stepping into a world of treachery and intrigue, glory won with grief.

Ever since I watched Philippa Gregory host a documentary about the women of the Cousins War, I wanted to read her version of events. The conundrum of historical fiction is knowing how much to believe; Gregory includes a disclaimer at the end of the book to help make that distinction, but her theories are compelling and the way she shapes the character of Elizabeth Woodville – a woman of ambition and heart, loyalty and malice – is beautifully done. I also liked the fantasy element woven through and the way it kept the women at the centre of the narrative. This is immensely engaging historical fiction, rich and intelligent. The series continues with The Red Queen.