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The White Queen - Philippa Gregory (More like 4.5 stars)

I was in a bit of a reading funk when The White Queen arrived; for over a week I had been struggling to read due to illness, and even after recovering things just did not quite click. But when I opened up the first pages of The White Queen to take a peek I found I had to keep going, and really did not put it down until I turned the last page.

Why? The first thing that captured me was the voice. Told in first person present, Elizabeth Woodville presents her tale - spanning two decades - with force and heart, and showing off the depths of her character as well. As Gregory writes her, Woodville is a woman who knows what she wants/needs, and what she must do to make it happen, whether it's standing by the road and begging a king for the return of her lands for her sons, to making that same king her husband, and doing the best for her children before and by him. Some of the ways she goes about this does not make her the most likable of characters (especially as the years pass and she ages), it still makes her a fascinating one to read as she cuts her way through everything in her path.

One thing that did stand out for me is use (possibly?) of magic in The White Queen. For those unfamiliar, Elizabeth's family claimed descent from Melusine, and the charge of witchcraft is laid against Elizabeth and her mother. Gregory spends a great deal of time devoted to this, and even now I'm not quite sure what to think of it. I was not expecting it when I opened the book, so when talk began of witchcraft and being descended from goddesses I didn't really know what to think. Even now I find myself considering the ambiguity with which it was written, and it's been a while since I actually read The White Queen. While the elements of magic did make for a somewhat awkward surprise ("what's the fantasy doing in my straight-up historical?"), once I accepted the fact that these characters believed in it, at the very least, the story became enjoyable again.

Despite a few stumbles in the appearance of witchcraft and my own unfamiliarity with the time period, The White Queen was a captivating read with a fantastic voice and a stand-out cast of real-life (if fictionalised) characters. The Red Queen, the second book in The Cousins' War, is out August.