I love historical fiction, particularly the convoluted tales of royal plotting and scheming in the annals of England’s tumultuous history, and Philippa Gregory has long been known as the first lady of historical fiction, especially since the film version of The Other Boleyn Girl hit the big screen. She has a number of really good novels, including The Boleyn Inheritance, The Constant Princess and The Virgin’s Lover, under her literary belt.
But Gregory, in some respects, created a monster when her genre took off. Following close on the heels of the success of The Other Boleyn Girl came a whole host of mimics and copycats, attempting to ride Gregory’s coattails with varying degrees of success. Many, if not most, of these copycats are downright awful, turning otherwise avid fans of historical fictions off and making us wary of the whole genre.
Gregory herself has struggled to replicate the commercial success of her earlier works. Truth be told, I’ve found her last few novels to be a bit formulaic, lacking the sparkling and freshness that made me love her writing in the first place.
The Kingmaker’s Daughter is the fourth in Gregory’s series on the War of the Roses, historically known as “the Cousins’ War.” While it’s far from a departure in terms of style and still follows that patented formula which Gregory hesitates to stray far from, this book is fairly interesting.
The Kingmaker’s Daughter tells the story of Anne Neville, daughter of the infamous Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick who was responsible for the making and breaking of several kings during the drawn-out War of the Roses. Warwick is known for his prowess on the battlefield, skill at political machinations and strong hold on the loyalties of the North of England. The earl raises Edward IV to the throne and, lacking a male heir of his own, positions his two daughters, Anne and Isobel, to be great ladies of the land, in line for the throne themselves.
But when Edward’s loyalties shift to favour his new wife, Elizabeth Woodville, and her family, Warwick champions a new contender for the throne, Edward’s brother George. Anne and Isobel are dragged along, used as pawns in Warwick’s political wrangling and lust for power, slavishly devoted to their father’s ambition.
Gregory follows the twists and turns of Anne’s life as she is married off first to Warwick’s declared worst enemy, the Lancaster contender and son of the exiled former queen Margaret of Anjou. When the prince is killed in battle and the Yorks retake the throne, Anne finds herself under the thumb of her sister, once her ally and now a dangerous rival. Married once again to Richard the Duke of Gloucester, Anne’s fortunes rise and fall like Fortune’s Wheel.
When she finally realizes her lifelong ambition and sits on her throne as the Queen of England, she discovers that the crown does not rest lightly on her head. Elizabeth Woodville, now a vanquished queen and an accused witch hiding in sanctuary, still maintains powerful friends and represents a very real risk to Anne’s power, even as she sits as the most powerful woman in the land.
Gregory does an impressive job of parsing through the maddening twists and turns of this tumultuous historical period, managing the rise and fall from power of England’s most powerful families and the quagmire of marriages, betrothals and alliances that come along the way.
This is classic Philippa Gregory and for those who enjoy her style, you’ll like The Kingmaker’s Daughter. There’s nothing new here, but it’s still a good read with a galloping plot and enough plotting and collusion to keep you interested.