Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Red Queen

Heiress to the red rose of Lancaster, Margaret Beaufort never surrenders her belief that her house is the true ruler of England and that she has a great destiny before her.
Married to a man twice her age, quickly widowed, and a mother at only fourteen, Margaret is determined to turn her lonely life into a triumph. She sets her heart on putting her son on the throne of England regardless of the cost to herself, to England, and even to the little boy. Disregarding rival heirs and the overwhelming power of the York dynasty, she names him Henry, like the king; sends him into exile; and pledges him in marriage to her enemy Elizabeth of York’s daughter. As the political tides constantly move and shift, Margaret charts her own way through another loveless marriage, treacherous alliances, and secret plots."

The actual summary for this book is about five times the length of what I've cut and pasted up there. Gives you an idea about just how long and involved this book is. Historical fiction, honey, what can I say?

I will say this, it was less sexy than The Other Boleyn Girl that's for darn sure. It helps that the protagonist here pretty much spends the entire novel wanting to be a nun, so there's that. It also had a lot less intrigue than Other Boleyn, which means it was harder to get through.

What I loved about this book is that even though the protagonist is an egotistical brat and master manipulator, Phillipa Gregory totally had me routing for the Red Queen all the way. It's written in first person narrative style, which should make it difficult for readers to get a clear picture of the heroine. Gregory managed it deftly. You know from the very beginning that you are reading from the perspective of a woman who could give Malificent a run for her money, and yet you like reading her. You want her to win. When she falls, you are not only disappointed for her, you're angry right along with her as though your pride has also been wounded. When she triumphs, you want to stand looking haughtily down at enemies now vanquished. This is what I imagine it would feel like to read from the perspective of the villainess.

I also loved the love stories. Yes, there were multiple. Some predictable and others not. One in particular, with her second husband, is bitter sweet and understated. Again, Gregory shows her talent in getting us to see  Margaret not only through her own eyes but through those of her aging, gentle second husband who is wiser than Margaret gives him credit for and loves her much more than she deserves.

I did not love how action free the novel was. Margaret eventually became the king's mother, but her contributions to the cause didn't amount to much more than getting pregnant, marrying some dudes, and writing a few letters. For the greater portion of the book it felt like the action was happening off stage somewhere. And that's probably how it was for Margaret. Her power came not from herself but her husbands and sons who did all the manoeuvring themselves. The book is a window into the impotence of being a woman during those times, when girls are not much more than heifers sent to breed by the men who own them.

I would not read this book again, but then I can't really think of any historical fiction novel which I would read again. I would, however, totally love to hang out with Margaret and let her be witchy to me. So there's that.

Rating: Two stars, my gentle lords and ladies faire.

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