I love historical fiction. A good bodice ripper? Nothing wrong with that.
For a long time, Philippa Gregory was my go-to for great historical fiction with a hint of the scandalous (seriously, have you read the Wideacre books? You’d be so embarrassed if someone read that over your shoulder). The Other Boleyn Girl was fantastic (aside from that whole movie debacle), I loved The Queen’s Fool, devoured the Wideacre trilogy (I have problems), and at this point have basically read everything she’s ever written.
This sort of blind devotion can be problematic. It means that I have several of her more recent works that I didn’t enjoy but had to buy because it was new Philippa Gregory and I was jonesing for a Tudor hit. The Red Queen, The White Queen, The Lady of the Rivers – these more recent titles have not been hitting that sweet spot.
OK fine, a lot of these have to do with the Cousins’ War (more commonly known as the War of the Roses) and focus on the Yorks so that might explain the lack of Tudors. But actually the Yorks are arguably more interesting than the Tudors. The Tudors have been done to death but the Yorks! The Yorks still have some life in them.
When The Kingmaker’s Daughter came out, I thought that this would be different. I don’t know anything about Isabel and Anne Neville. I had a vague recollection that they married Edward IV’s brothers but that’s as far as my Neville girls’ knowledge went. This would be the perfect antidote to my Philippa Gregory fatigue – she can do anything and I won’t already know where this is headed.
The Kingmaker’s Daughter is billed as Gregory’s first “sister story” since The Other Boleyn Girl and it is definitely about sisters and all the drama that goes with that. Except drama that could end in becoming a Queen, or being the lady-in-waiting. Isabel and Anne Neville are the daughters of the man they call the Kingmaker, instrumental in putting the new Edward IV on the throne (while the old king, Henry V was imprisoned in The Tower). Daughters of a man like this know that their destinies are in his hands and he will do with them whatever he thinks will benefit him the most.
So there were a number of wars, many many changes in fortune, beheadings, probable poisoning, imprisonment and even a genuine love match and still, this book did not do it for me. The whole time it felt like things were happening to Anne (who is really the main character in the whole thing) and she goes along with it because she’s a woman and that’s what happens. Even all the wars and the history that is happening – she tells you that it’s happened but she’s never a part of it. It’s always after the fact.
I read the epilogue where Gregory says that she wanted to write a story about a woman that made her own decisions, that was a player in this crazy game for power and I was thinking where is that story? This was not that story!
I felt kind of ripped off to be honest. Where was the sex? The frenzied, forbidden, in dark corners sex? That used to be a hallmark of a great Philippa Gregory novel – where did it go?
She did leave me intrigued enough with Elizabeth of York to be kind of curious about her next book The White Princess. But overall I was glad that this time I got her book from the library.
PS There is the matter of The White Queen having been turned into a TV show. This I can get behind!