Majesties on the verge of mad­ness

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - M.L. JOHN­SON

Philippa Gre­gory, the reign­ing queen of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, brings read­ers to the brink of in­san­ity with the lat­est saga in her The Cousins’ War se­ries.

The King­maker’s Daugh­ter fo­cuses on Anne Neville, whose rich and pow­er­ful fa­ther helped Ed­ward of York over­throw Henry VI to be­come king of Eng­land. Ed­ward and Henry were cousins, lead­ing to the name of the se­ries of bat­tles and po­lit­i­cal in­trigues that con­sumed the na­tion for decades.

Gre­gory’s fourth novel about the civil war be­gins with Anne’s pre­sen­ta­tion to the newly crowned Ed­ward and the woman he has se­cretly wed, El­iz­a­beth Woodville. “She is breath­tak­ing,” Gre­gory writes in Anne’s voice. “The most beau­ti­ful woman I have ever seen in my life.”

But Anne comes to see the queen as her great­est en­emy. Her fa­ther, an­gry that Ed­ward heeds his wife rather than the sol­dier who helped him cap­ture the throne, turns against the king, spurring an­other re­bel­lion that puts Anne and her sis­ter in ever more har­row­ing sit­u­a­tions.

Anne nearly drowns dur­ing a storm at sea, de­liv­ers her sis­ter’s still­born child, mar­ries a claimant to the throne who rapes her re­peat­edly be­fore dy­ing in bat­tle and is held pris­oner for her for­tune. And that’s all be­fore she turns 15.

Res­cued by the king’s brother Richard, she ex­pe­ri­ences brief hap­pi­ness as his wife be­fore fam­ily pol­i­tics con­sume her. Un­able to let go of their fa­ther’s dream that they should be queens or his jeal­ousy of El­iz­a­beth Woodville, Anne and her sis­ter, Is­abel, be­come in­creas­ingly am­bi­tious and para­noid.

Is­abel’s death, fol­lowed by that of her son, leaves Anne cer­tain El­iz­a­beth is poi­son­ing her fam­ily. When Ed­ward dies, she pushes Richard to take the throne, only to find that be­ing queen holds no re­as­sur­ance. When their son dies, Anne ex­pects to be next. by Philippa Gre­gory (Si­mon & Schus­ter Canada, 432

pages, $29.99)

The Cousins’ War, bet­ter known in the U.S. as the War of the Roses, pro­vides a rich set­ting for drama with its end­less plots and con­niv­ing courtiers. Still, with three nov­els cov­er­ing es­sen­tially the same his­tor­i­cal events un­der her belt, one might ex­pect Gre­gory to run out of steam.

There’s no sign of that in The King­maker’s Daugh­ter. On its own, it is a tragic tale of bad par­ent­ing, with Anne and Is­abel cowed by their fa­ther and moulded by his prej­u­dices. But their grow­ing para­noia is ren­dered truly in­sane only when this novel is paired with the first in the se­ries, The White Queen, which is told from El­iz­a­beth’s per­spec­tive.

Faith­ful read­ers know the queen felt only pity for the girls loved for their money and sac­ri­ficed for their fa­ther’s am­bi­tions. As Anne mis­in­ter­prets ev­ery kind ges­ture, The King­maker’s Daugh­ter shows how vi­o­lently ex­pec­ta­tion can over­ride re­al­ity, lead­ing to tragedy. Only at the end does Anne re­al­ize the true per­se­cu­tion she ex­pe­ri­enced was in her own mind.

The other nov­els, The Red Queen and The Lady of the Rivers, look at the war from the per­spec­tive of the win­ning “queen,” Mar­garet Beau­fort, and El­iz­a­beth’s mother, a lady-in-wait­ing to Henry VI’s queen. With four of the most in­flu­en­tial women of the time now cov­ered, fans must be won­der­ing, is this the end?

And if not, who’s next?

The King­maker’s Daugh­ter

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