Thursday, January 11, 2018

Book 111: The Red Queen

"A parcel- taken from one place to another, handed from one owner to another, unwrapped and bundled up at will- is all that I am. A vessel, for the bearing of sons, for one nobleman or another: it hardly matters who. Nobody sees me for what I am: a young woman of great family with royal connections, a young woman of exceptional piety who deserves- surely to God!- some recognition."

Dates read: December 15-21, 2016

Rating: 7/10

Sometimes, I think the idea of fate is bonkers. Some other times, I think there's no other reasonable explanation out there. It's hard not to look back at the rocky, circuitous path that brought you to a good place and not succumb to the romantic notion that it was somehow destined to be. It lends a sense of purpose to our struggles. Most importantly, perhaps, it absolves us of the responsibility for poor decision-making. If it wasn't the universe directing me to what was meant to be, then maybe I just picked the wrong thing, and that's much less satisfying.

In The Red Queen, her second entry in The Cousin's War series, Philippa Gregory turns her attention to Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII. She begins with Margaret, of the Lancaster family, as a devoutly religious pre-teen. Even at age 10, Margaret prides herself on her "saint's knees", red and painful because she spends so much time praying, and longs to enter a religious order. Her own mother, though, has other plans for her. At the age of just 12, she's married off to Edmund Tudor, who is twice her age, in the hope that she'll bear an heir for the Lancasters.

She does, having baby Henry at just 13, after a long and painful labor that might have compromised her reproductive system, since she never gave birth again. Her husband is already dead in the Wars of the Roses, and she's married again, at 14, to Henry Stafford. Her son, though, remained in the custody of his uncle Jasper. This second marriage lasted until she was nearly 30, when her husband died in further Wars of the Roses skirmishes. She married one last time, to Thomas Stanley, whose significant forces eventually helped turn the tides against the Yorks, leading to Henry VII's ascension to the throne.

For my money, The Red Queen is a much more successful outing than its predecessor, The White Queen, and the difference is based in characterization. While Elizabeth Woodville wasn't given much of a personality, with Gregory relying on vague witchiness to give her some flair, Beaufort has a will like iron. Denied the religious life she craved, she turns that fanatical devotion to ensuring that her son becomes king. She's given the occasional moment of doubt and a thwarted long-distance love affair with her brother-in-law Jasper Tudor to keep her from being entirely one-dimensional, but her determination and unwillingness to compromise on her vision of glory for her only child creates a vivid character that anchors the book. Margaret definitely believes in fate. I was initially a little hesitant about this series given the weakness of The White Queen, but this book, although it's hardly high literature and probably takes significant liberty with the actual record as Gregory tends to do, was an enjoyable read and I'm looking forward to reading the following entries in the series.

Tell me, blog you believe in fate?

One year ago, I was reading: Americanah

Two years ago, I was reading: Approval Junkie

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