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.
"The Kingmaker's Daughter"By Philippa Gregory
Touchstone, 432 pages, $26.99
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.
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 molded 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 and friendly smile, "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 two novels in the series, "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?