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A Book A Week: The White Queen and The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

The White Queen is a 10-part BBC production about the War of the Roses that was recently broadcast in the U.S. on the Starz network. I watched it and loved it, historical inaccuracies and all. But the show made me curious about the books upon which it was based, four novels by Philippa Gregory, whose books I usually think are pretty repetitive (insert generic queen/princess character into historical context x). In this case it seemed like Gregory took a more creative approach. Instead of writing a series in chronological order, she wrote four books about four different women that all happen within the same time frame, and that describe the same events from the very different perspectives of the four main characters.

The BBC took all four books and combined them into one narrative, but I was curious about how Gregory did it, so I read two of the four books. The White Queen is about Elizabeth Rivers, wife of Edward IV, and The Red Queen is about Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor (Henry VII; and she never was a queen so what's with that title?). The other two books are The Lady of the Rivers (about Elizabeth's mother, Jacquetta Rivers) and The Kingmaker's Daughter (about Anne Neville, wife of Richard III, shown above in yellow).

I doubt I will have the stamina to read either of these. Of the two I read, The Red Queen is a lot more interesting. Margaret Beaufort's shocking confidence in her own ability to converse with God, and her singled-minded obsession with getting her son onto the throne, made her a much better character than Elizabeth Rivers, whose primary attributes seemed to be her looks and her fertility. Gregory has titled her series The Cousins War, and two more books are in the works; I think these will be set a bit later in the time frame. While I probably won't read these either, I like the fact that Gregory has taken on this era and story, which is usually overlooked in favor of the Tudors.

I read both books simultaneously as I watched the show. I would watch an episode, then read up to that point in both the books, then watch another episode, etc. The show tracked the books pretty closely, and the chapters are helpfully titled.

I enjoyed myself, though my reading experience is inextricably linked to the viewing experience, so it's hard to comment only on the books. I would venture to say that, without the added fun of the good-looking actors, and the great costumes and locations, the books would be bland. But you should try it my way: The DVDs will be available soon, and the books are in the library.

Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book a Week.

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