Summary: Heiress to the red rose of Lancaster, Margaret Beaufort never surrenders her belief that her house is the true ruler of England and that she has a great destiny before her. Her ambitions are disappointed when her sainted cousin Henry VI fails to recognize her as a kindred spirit, and she is even more dismayed when he sinks into madness. Her mother mocks her plans, revealing that Margaret will always be burdened with the reputation of her father, one of the most famously incompetent English commanders in France. But worst of all for Margaret is when she discovers that her mother is sending her to a loveless marriage in remote Wales.
Married to a man twice her age, quickly widowed, and a mother at only fourteen, Margaret is determined to turn her lonely life into a triumph. She sets her heart on putting her son on the throne of England regardless of the cost to herself, to England, and even to the little boy. Disregarding rival heirs and the overwhelming power of the York dynasty, she names him Henry, like the king; sends him into exile; and pledges him in marriage to her enemy Elizabeth of York's daughter. As the political tides constantly move and shift, Margaret charts her own way through another loveless marriage, treacherous alliances, and secret plots. She feigns loyalty to the usurper Richard III and even carries his wife's train at her coronation.
Widowed a second time, Margaret marries the ruthless, deceitful Thomas, Lord Stanley, and her fate stands on the knife edge of his will. Gambling her life that he will support her, she then masterminds one of the greatest rebellions of the time—all the while knowing that her son has grown to manhood, recruited an army, and now waits for his opportunity to win the greatest prize.
In a novel of conspiracy, passion, and coldhearted ambition, number one bestselling author Philippa Gregory has brought to life the story of a proud and determined woman who believes that she alone is destined, by her piety and lineage, to shape the course of history. -- Touchstone
Last year, I read the first book in The Cousins' War Series -- THE WHITE QUEEN by Philippa Gregory and I absolutely loved it! I was so glad to see that Ms. Gregory "was back" after a few books that didn't quite live up to my expectations. I really thought that THE WHITE QUEEN encompassed everything I love about historical fiction. There were fascinating characters that epitomized good and evil, as well as suspenseful and intriguing historical events. I can honestly say that historical fiction doesn't get much better than Ms. Gregory when she's "on."
So needless to say, I have been anxiously awaiting the second book in the series THE RED QUEEN. Thank goodness I only had to wait a year! I devoured this novel just like I did THE WHITE QUEEN, but I have to admit that I don't think I enjoyed it quite as much. That's not to say that it wasn't a very, very good novel because it did still had all of those elements that I've come to expect and love in a Gregory novel. I just think I found the characters a bit more interesting (and likable) in THE WHITE QUEEN.
THE RED QUEEN refers to Margaret Beaufort, the mother of the Tudor dynasty. She is quite an interesting character in her own right, but I'm not sure that I really "liked" her (although I definitely appreciated her.) She is an extremely pious woman who has a unique perception of her relationship with God. I found myself actually laughing at her behavior and her interpretations of God's will more than a few times while reading this book. She was definitely a most pious woman (Joan of Arc was her idol), and she almost lived in her own world as far as religion was concerned. At times, I thought the portrayal of her devotion to God was a little over the top, but I was glad to see some of the characters in the novel agreed with me and even called her out on her beliefs!
Margaret is also an extremely determined and strong woman. She is absolutely convinced that her son will one day be the King of England. I actually appreciated how Ms. Gregory developed this aspect of her character because it made for excellent fiction. After a few incidents in her youth, Margaret realizes that she really has almost no say in the direction of her life and she realizes that she is a small pawn in the very big game. Despite these feelings, Margaret doesn't just throw the towel in. Rather, she dedicates her life (because it is God's will, of course) to seeing her son Henry to the throne. She does whatever it takes including hiding Henry for years as well as arranging her own marriage to someone close to King Richard. It amazed me at times, but Margaret somehow found a way to still lead her idea of a "pious" life while scheming behind the scenes in King Richard the III's kingdom.
Once again, I really enjoyed how Ms. Gregory portrayed the War of the Roses between the houses of York and Lancaster. I think this entire period in history is fascinating because it pitted cousin against cousin; and the opportunities for betrayal and deception were everywhere. It's no wonder that this war makes such terrific fodder for historical fiction novels. While I did appreciate getting the York version of events in THE WHITE QUEEN, I also loved getting the Lancaster perspective in THE RED QUEEN. It's always interesting to see both side's interpretation of an event like a war.
One thing that I'm really excited about is that there is still one more book in The Cousins' War series -- THE WHITE PRINCESS. I am already intrigued about the title character from the first two books, and I'm hoping that the novel will pick up right where THE WHITE QUEEN and THE RED QUEEN left off! If it is even half as good as the first two books in the series, I know I'll be in for a treat.
THE RED QUEEN would make a terrific book club pick. While the story did take place almost 600 years ago, there are still many topics that are relative today including faith, destiny, and a mother's love. I can honestly say that my book club would love to read this book because it does have so much drama. THE RED QUEEN really does have something for everyone -- there is suspense, intrigue, betrayal, and deception; and who can resist that combination? There is a readers guide available which touches on topics such as the role of religion, duty, sacrifices, honor, pride, responsibility, redemption, and deception.
I highly recommend THE RED QUEEN if you are looking for a great story. If you are a fan of historical fiction, then this is one series that you don't want to miss!
On a side note: It is not necessary to read THE WHITE QUEEN before THE RED QUEEN. While both books share characters, they do stand-alone. But I have to warn you, after you read one of them, you're going to want to read the other one!
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.
Giveaway alert: I have an extra copy of THE RED QUEEN to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below. Comments on this post will not count as entries. I will accept entries until August 22nd at 11:59 p.m. ET, and I will notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck!