Gregory’s latest fiction (The Other Queen, 2008, etc.) moves from the Tudors to their predecessors, the Plantaganets, and their War of the Roses.
It is 1464 and Henry VI is King of England, but not for long. Mentally unstable (some say a holy fool), his House of Lancaster is fighting the House of York to maintain a puppet throne. A young Yorkist heir claims the crown through a series of battles and becomes Edward IV. Elizabeth Woodville, a Lancastrian widow and famous beauty, stops the King and his retinue on the road to ask that her lands and inheritance be restored to her. It is love at first sight (or maybe lust as the King is a notorious letch, or maybe witchcraft—Elizabeth and her mother dabble in the black arts), and soon she and Edward marry and she ascends the throne as the new Queen of England. On the advice of her mother and Edward, she gives titles and power to all of her family, a move that makes her allies and enemies in equal measure. Along the way there are betrayals by those seeking the throne for themselves, more conquests and more enemies made, with France always at their heels. In the midst of this Elizabeth and Edward have many children, including two boys who become part of the unsolved mystery of the Princes in the Tower. When Edward suddenly dies, his brother Richard III steals the rights of the young Prince of Wales and crowns himself King. As always Gregory fills out all the dark corners of history and creates a thrilling read, and again creates a portrait of female society that has more power (diamond-hard women who will see their sons and husbands rule at any cost) than is generally acknowledged. Yet the intimacy of Elizabeth Woodville’s story is too often overshadowed by the complexities of the times she lived in, and in Gregory’s attempt to get it all in, some depth of character is left out.
A mixed result in this first of a new series.