January 8, 2010


The Cousins’ War Book I
by Philippa Gregory
432 pages, Touchstone

Review by Kwana Jackson

Like many others, I have long been a fan of Philippa Gregory, since The Other Boleyn Girl, in fact. In The White Queen, Ms. Gregory explores the family before the Tudors, The Plantagenets and The War of the Roses. Of course, in Gregory style it’s done through the eyes of the women who are supposedly in the background.

In The White Queen, the woman is Elizabeth Woodville of the House of Lancaster, who is newly widowed with two young sons. She’s a woman now, stripped of her wealth and lands since her now-dead husband was killed while on the wrong side of the war serving King Henry. Elizabeth has to do what she can and use what she has, her cunning and wiles, to get the land and wealth she needs in order to survive. She goes out to where she knows the new young conquering king will be passing with his army one day to plead her case. So starts their love affair, and with the help of her mother, Jacquetta, a subsequent secret marriage. This brings rise to the Lancaster family and the hatred of Warwick, the king’s most trusted advisor, and the man who has been controlling the king as ‘the kingmaker’ all these years.

The novel weaves in the story of Melisina, the water goddess, and it is legend that Elisabeth and her mother Jacquetta are decedents of this goddess and are also witches. The book does little to squelch these rumors, but instead encourages them and uses the magic as a sweet style device. I, knowing nothing much about the history, didn’t have a problem with it. Though it was never out-and-out said, and only thought of as legend, you did wonder by the end if they had some sort of mystical power.

With too many claimants to the throne, Edward, King Henry in capture, disloyal brothers, scheming cousins and waiting nephews, Elizabeth has to be cunning and sharp about everything she says and does. She truly does love her husband, the king, and has from the start. But though her mother taught her about love, she also taught her the realities of their life when she says early on in the book, “Death is our close companion.” Elizabeth knows she can trust almost no one, as each person is out for their own benefit and place in line for the throne. It’s constant turbulent times for her and even when she does finally give birth to sons to secure the royal line nothing is secure, as there are still those scheming against their safety and place of power.

It was nice to see the play of power that the women showed in this novel. Elizabeth, though she showed plenty of emotion and real depth of feeling, proved herself to be a strong heroine as did her mother Jacquetta. They would do anything for their children and their survival. They showed great love of their men but seemed to show greater love of their children and I enjoyed that aspect of the book.

It was refreshing to see the three generations of women interplay: Elizabeth Woodville, her mother Jacquetta and Elizabeth’s daughter, who grows up during the course of the story, and another player by the end. The women of this book prove themselves to be fighters though they could not pick up swords. Instead they used the only weapons they could, their minds and their words, and in those they proved themselves to be formidable adversaries of the men.

The book is only part one and ends rather abruptly to me. It still leaves many unanswered questions as to what will happen—with Elizabeth and her daughter Elizabeth, now nearly grown and a beauty, her secret son and her missing heir son—and what of the usurper King on the thrown now?

Yeah, Ms. Gregory has pulled me in, so I’m sure I’ll be picking up Book 2. Good job there.



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