Tuesday, July 20, 2010
The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
This is book two in the Cousins' War series
Plot: Margaret Beaufort has been enchanted since she can remember with the idea of Joan of Arc and feels that she was meant for greatness. First believing that she is meant for a holy life, Margaret is sent with great disappointment to be married at age twelve. After nearly dying in childbirth, she is widowed and sent to be remarried. Her one goal is to see her only son and heir Henry be crowned king. Years pass and her second husband leaves her a widow, forcing her to marry a third time. This time around as Lady Stanley, she lives her life as close to being a nun as she's allowed, serving as advisor to a queen she would rather see dead. Can she pull herself out of her own shadow and see her own heir king or will she have to bow down to a woman known to be a witch?
There is a lot of ground to cover in this novel. The first part takes you solidly through the life of Margaret Beaufort and her quest for divinity, before switching to a more common view of royal ruling. Set mostly on the battlefields, this story slithers in and out of the lead's narration and having been done beautifully with letters making you feel as if you are truly looking over the shoulder of Margaret. I found myself towards the end feeling the hurried frustration that Margaret was, as she was being forced to play her hand silently, never knowing who was telling her the truth and who was spying on her. It's rare for an author to give you the sense of urgency like this while reading their words.
As you grow with the character of Margaret, you feel both pity for her and in time distaste. Her ever present desire for control which is supplied first under the disguise of her visions from God then begin to show their true colours as being jealousy for a more adored woman.
There is a small segment where upon Margaret has lost favour with the court and is sentenced to both house arrest and to be the guardian of the future queen. You feel the full weight of her character here the most, as she is still plotting revenge while in denial about her situation. Ever flaunting her religious devotion in the face of her ward, increasing the divide between the two women. This is the standoff that tells more about the future of things then even the final battle scene. The Princess Elizabeth never bends to the will of Margaret once during her stay with her, ever holding onto her own truth.
Margaret is both cunning and cruel in her sense of self and her loyalty to the house of Lancaster. Stopping at nothing to secure her name and her place in the royal line, letting her own vanity cross out the weakness in herself, seeing it (vanity) only in her rivals. There are moments when you are not sure if she is mad or just so blinded by her own upbringing and devotion to both her religion and her greed.
Either way, the idea of a woman keeping to her choices and her show of faith in them is refreshing.
There were moments when reading this when I wished her third husband had been expanded on as a character. As strong as he was, Lord Stanley was left short in actual personality. Easily the most interesting of the three husbands, I kept waiting to see more direction from him.
The character of Jasper Tudor, the brother -in-law from the first marriage, at times seems like a half forgotten element. The first part of the novel has him a prime player in the plot, but he tappers out a little too much and is nearly used as a means to bridge the shift from one husband to the other. At times very one dimensional, at other times, you feel the hopelessness he is balancing on the edge of.
This is not just a story about power but a story about devotion. What you are willing to sacrifice for your visions and how you are able to stand for the choices you make.
As someone walking in on this series at the second book, it does indeed make me want to go out and find the first book in the series The White Queen, to see what I've missed.