As promised, here it is: the first book review of my cunning new blog plan. Although it might be more appropriate to call it a “books” review since I’m covering six books in one go (okay, sometimes I might be a tad bit of an overachiever). The six tomes being those of the Cousins War series by Philippa Gregory.
Six Books? Are You Mad?!!
Don’t worry, I have no speed reading abilities, but I do have a lot of time to listen to books while I’m working on my art projects, so I tend to get a lot of “reading” done during my work day. I’ve read/listened to a few books in this series before, but I got a hankering to listen to the whole series after my local public television station aired The Hollow Crown, a new rendition of Shakespeare’s history plays about Henry IV.
In these plays (aka “Elizabethan propaganda”), Richard III (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is the nastiest of nasty bad guys. Personally, I have a soft spot for Ol’ Richie because Mr. Husband and I have a running joke that he’s my great-great-great-(many greats)-grandfather.
This joke started when we were watching a show about the recent discovery of Richard’s remains. The skeleton showed he had scoliosis, a short torso, and longish arms…I happen to have (less severe) scoliosis on the same side as Richard, a weirdly short torso, and monkey-long arms. And so began the little joke. (I have since learned that my father’s people may have come from the York area, which does lend a certain “hmmm, maybe” factor to the joke).
Anyway, long story short, after seeing The Hollow Crown, I was eager to give Gregory’s books a re-read (re-listen) since many of the books focus on the same time period as The Hollow Crown…and make my (many-greats) grandfather out to be a nicer fellow.
The Cousins’ War Books
The books (from 1 to 6) of The Cousins’ War series are…
- The White Queen – focusing on Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s wife, from the time of their marriage to the time leading up to the Battle of Bosworth
- The Red Queen – focusing on Margaret Beaufort, mother to Henry VII, from the time of her childhood through the Battle of Bosworth
- The Lady of the Rivers – focusing on Jacquetta, mom of of Elizabeth Woodville, from the time of her childhood to the time her daughter meets Edward IV.
- The Kingmaker’s Daughter – focusing on Isabel Neville, wife of Richard III, from the time of her childhood to the time of her death (just prior to the Battle of Bosworth).
- The White Princess – focusing on Elizabeth of York and her marriage to Henry VII.
- The King’s Curse – focusing on Margaret de la Pole, niece of Richard III, and her strained relations with Henry VIII.
All the books are incredibly well researched and well written. You really get an understanding of how difficult it was for women during this time. Not only regarding the risks of childbirth, but if you were educated or strong-headed, you might be considered a witch (I’d have been burned on the stake by the time I was 16); if you said a wrong word or spoke to the wrong person, you could be accused of treason; and, as a daughter, you were seen as pretty much a nothing compared to a son.
Even though several of the books overlap the same time period, you get to see the events unfold from a different perspective. This keeps the books feeling fresh and I have to take my proverbial hat off to Gregory for being able to manage this feat.
Of all the books, I think The White Queen is my favorite because I love the storyline about her witch ancestor and the sense of magic that is woven into the book (without turning it into a fantasy novel). The Red Queen is a close second because Margaret Beaufort is such a nasty piece of work and I imagine Gregory had fun creating her character.
But not every book is outstanding. The Lady of the Rivers, while in no way a bad book (it’s actually very interesting), seems to go on forever, and some sections just feel like they have no point. My least favorite of the series is The White Princess because Elizabeth of York just comes off as such a bland character who just has stuff happen to her without her ever doing much of anything about it (although you do pity her a bit).
Also, the order of the books is bit odd. Kept in order, you end up reading about Elizabeth Woodville’s mother two books after reading about Elizabeth herself. Since The Lady of Rivers ends with Elizabeth Woodville going out to meet Edward IV, then The White Queen begins with this meeting, I’d suggest reading The Lady of the Rivers first, and then continuing on with the rest of the books in sequence for a better timeline flow.
Want More? You Got It!
Of course, Philippa Gregory is the queen of historical fiction, so if you get through this series and want to continue the story of this batch of royals that ended up creating Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, you have plenty to look forward to, including….
- The Constant Princess (an excellent tale of Catherine of Aragon)
- Three Sisters, Three Queens
- The Other Boleyn Girl
- The Boleyn Inheritance(this is probably my favorite of Gregory’s books because the stories of Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard are handled perfectly!)
- The Taming of the Queen
- The Queen’s Fool
- The Virgin’s Lover
- The Other Queen
Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Do you have any other novels that you can recommend that focus on the War of the Roses? I’d love to hear from you!!