As an English literature major and history minor, there are few things more exciting to me than historical fiction novels. It is truly the best of both worlds, like chocolate-covered pretzels or Hannah Montana. With this genre being a combination of my favorite things, I read a lot of historical fiction, and Philippa Gregory is one of the best authors in the genre.
Now, I am biased because she is most well known for writing about the Tudor era in British history, which is my obsession. Since the commercial success of her novel, “The Other Boleyn Girl,” Gregory has branched into an earlier era of British history, which is called “The Cousins’ War” or “The War of the Roses.” Her most recent book exploring this turbulent time is “The Kingmaker’s Daughter.” Anne Neville is the daughter of the Duke of Warwick, who is also called “The Kingmaker,” due to his influence in putting Edward IV on the throne of England.
It is 1465, and Anne and her sister Isabel are going to court for the first time to meet the king and queen. Edward IV’s wife, Elizabeth Woodville, is disliked by the English nobility, because she is the daughter of a mere Baron, and has caught the king’s eye, due to her good looks. This first meeting sets up many of the major characters in the rest of the novel. While her father the Duke was once Edward IV’s greatest friend and ally, through Anne’s eyes we see their relationship splintered by the queen’s domineering presence at court.
The Duke of Warwick is insulted, and he starts to believe that he put the wrong boy of the House of York on the throne. In a sneaky move, he marries Isabel off to Edward IV’s younger brother George, who possesses an equally good claim to kingship. The Duke of Warwick starts playing a dangerous game against Edward IV and Elizabeth, by using his daughters as pawns and making plenty of dangerous enemies along the way.
Anne gets caught up in her father’s ambitions and finds herself in constant competition with her sister and desperately unhappy. Through a disastrous and failed coup, hope shines for Anne in the form of the chivalrous Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the youngest brother of Edward IV and George.
Will love set her free from ambitious dreams, or merely add fuel to the fire of her desire for the throne? In my experience with Gregory’s historical fiction, I have found that some background information on the history involved in the plot can go a long way in helping you with understanding the time period. For instance, “The War of the Roses” involves two main noble Houses of Lancaster and York, vying for the throne of England. It consisted of almost continuous battling and plotting by both sides, with many different candidates competing for kingship.
A Wikipedia article on the history could give you plenty of information about these events, but I would not research specific characters unless you want to give away exciting parts of the plot. Anne, for instance, is both a charming narrator and a complex character. We see her as a daughter, sister, subject, wife and mother. She has a fascinating role in history, and the twists and turns that her life and relationships take are genuinely interesting. Similar to “Game of Thrones,” each character has a variety of names that can be easy to mix up.
There so many characters with the name Edward alone that you would think they were named by a bunch of Twilight fans. Once you get the family names figured out in relation to which side of the war they are on, you are ready for this book and the other ones in Gregory’s series. “The Kingmaker’s Daughter” is a great gateway book, because many of the female characters in it have their own in the series with each one featured as the narrator. The aforementioned Elizabeth Woodville, for example, is the narrator in “The White Queen,” while her mother Jaquetta of Luxembourg is featured in “The Lady of the Rivers.” Gregory’s series offers viewpoints from every side of “The Cousins’ War.”
I enjoyed this book, but I was prevented from loving it due to the fact that the sister dynamics between Isabel and Anne felt a little too “Other Boleyn Girl” to be authentic. Other than that, I do not have any complaints. Historically speaking, Anne Neville is often shunted to the side in favor of demonizing her husband Richard, so it was enlightening to see a focus on her. This novel is 409 pages and the language is nothing complex, so I think this would be a great book to read over Christmas break.
The drama, suspense and love in “The Kingmaker’s Daughter” is the perfect balm for your post-finals trauma, because that B+ will look pretty good in comparison to fighting for your birthright and being manipulated by your family members. Pick up Gregory’s latest book and see how the Kingmaker’s daughter makes her own way in the history books of England.