Too many historical novels are like tapestries: detailed, finely wrought and colorful, but essentially static. Things happen to these needlework queens and kings, courtiers and common folk, but they remain lifeless figures. They put me to sleep.
Philippa Gregory’s fiction keeps me up. Her books resemble films, as accurate as any documentary but thrillingly intimate and eventful as well. A rich, consistently engrossing narrative voice is her preeminent tool, and in THE RED QUEEN, as in her other bestsellers, I felt that the protagonist was right in the room with me, whispering confidences --- so close that I could see the perspiration on her upper lip, the cross around her neck, the gold embroidery on her gown.
This is Book Two of the series Gregory calls The Cousins’ War (the original name for the War of the Roses, which pitted Lancaster against York), and the starring role is played by Lady Margaret Beaufort. A Lancastrian descended from Edward III (and thus in line for the English throne), Margaret soon discovers that her family tree will determine her entire future. This pious and intense child doesn’t see why she can’t become Joan of Arc, or a nun (preferably an abbess), or at least marry for love. But to be strategically “wedded and bedded” is her lot. As her mother puts it in a chilly premarital advisory, “You are a girl: girls have no choice.”
As Margaret matures, she doesn’t lose her fanatical faith, but she transfers it from aspirations to a life of prayer to the more worldly vision of her son as king. Since Margaret’s first husband, Edmund Tudor, is also of royal lineage, their offspring could conceivably rule the land as Henry VII…were it not for the many other aristocratic heads that would have to roll before his was crowned.
That doesn’t deter Margaret. In the next couple of decades, she lies, cheats and conspires her way through two more loveless (and childless) marriages, pretending loyalty to the reigning Yorkist monarchs while fomenting rebellion --- first against Edwa