Philippa Gregory’s books are something of a guilty pleasure for me. The Other Boleyn Girl was a real page-turner that was so juicy I couldn’t put it down. I know there is quite a bit of controversy surrounding the historical accuracy, but in my opinion Gregory’s rendition of the events is perfectly plausible. Who is to say otherwise, really? There’s no way to really know.

So I was excited to read The Red Queen, a novel set even earlier, during the War of the Roses in England. It’s pretty obvious that I’m a big fan of historical fiction, and those that are set in times this far removed from our own intrigue me. Is it possible to write accurately about daily life? I’m sure it is, but it would require an enormous amount of research- at least for me it would. This book, like most of Gregory’s, features families of the English aristocracy who have ties to the throne.

The England of the War of the Roses is war-torn and chaotic, still deep in feudalism, which makes the tone of this book quite different from her Tudor books. Gregory has done vast amounts of research as usual and it really shows. However, at some points I felt that the research overpowered the plot- after all, this is supposed to be a novel, not a history paper. The main character and narrator, Margaret, was pretty unbelievable for me. This is a woman who betrayed many people and stopped at nothing to make sure that her son had a chance at the throne, yet Gregory portrays her as a religious zealot who wants nothing more than to be a nun. I don’t buy it. I know religion in those times was quite different from the idea of Christianity today, but I don’t believe for one second that a woman so fixated on putting her son on the throne and being obsessed with restoring her family to power would have so deep an interest in religion. A little, sure, no problem. But one of the resonating traits of this character is that she is always going to pray about something and feels betrayed by her mother for forcing her to get married rather than letting her be a nun. This is also problematic for me: I find it highly unlikely that a young girl in those days, raised in a noble family and in such a society, would beg her mother to become something she is obviously not cut out for socially.  I felt that portraying her as a willful, stubborn young girl inflicted too many 21st century values on her. Anyway, back to the religion point. As the book goes on, I suspect that Gregory was showing the splinters in Margaret’s love of religion in that no matter what happened or what she did, she was always firmly convinced that God was on her side- even when her side was defeated in battle. No matter what underhanded plot she developed, it was always “God’s will.”

The other character trait that constantly shows up is Margaret’s desire to “sign her name Margaret R.” as a queen would (or, in her circumstances, mother of the king).  I get the significance of this and how it shows the conflict with her religious side and that it’s foreshadowing and all, but really, I don’t need to be beat over the head with it quite so hard. And very predictably, the book ends with this statement.

Though Margaret’s sentiments about her marriages and her son probably ring true for many female readers, I found her to be much too one-dimensional and repetitive for my taste. But who’s to say she wasn’t? I wasn’t very impressed with this book but I do want to read the companion book, The White Queen for comparison’s sake.

Bottom line: Ho-hum.

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