Reading has become somewhat of an addiction for me. Even though reading (and writing stories) was very much a part of my life when I was younger I stopped at some point and didn’t start reading regularly until a few years ago, and now I can’t stop!
It started off after reading the trilogy of The Game of Thrones by George Martin, which I rented from the library and I enjoyed so much that when one book had come to an abrupt and unexpected end (due to the fact that about 50 pages at the end of the book were lists of the individual characters and their respective ‘houses’), I actually travelled to different library’s on the same day after work in order to get the next book in the trilogy. The thought of not having the next book to read immediately filled me with such dread that I was prepared to do anything that was necessary to acquire the next instalment. Indeed I even named my new kitten after a character in the book: Sansa. When the books came to an end (because good ole George hadn’t finished writing them all yet!), it was an almost painful experience. I was SO engrossed in the characters and the story that I just couldn’t comprehend the thought of having to wait another year or so to continue reading. So I began looking for another trilogy, not necessarily fantasy, because I couldn’t imagine that any other author would catch my imagination as intensely as George had, and my boyfriend suggested that I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I had seen lots of people reading the book on the tube on the way into work, but had just assumed that it was just another boring, overhyped book of which I was likely to put down after the first 2 chapters. But it turned out to be a wonderful read, past paced, intriguing and adrenalin pumping, also, I had never read anything like it before. I was hooked. Alas, just like the Game of Thrones, it came to an end far too soon. Next, I ventured into the world of historical fiction. I was talking to my boyfriends Mum about my frustrations with never knowing what book to read next, as I hate being disappointed with books, and have absolutely no patience with reading dull, predictable and unimaginative stories and she suggested that I borrow one of her books which was based on the Tudors. The author was Philippa Gregory. I’d never heard of her before but from looking at the front cover of the book (it was The Other Boleyn Girl), I wasn’t all that keen. It looked like it might be dull, very dull indeed. I didn’t have an interest in reading romanticized stories, I was more interested in stories that had grit and intrigue, featuring interesting characters that had interesting personality’s. And I was not convinced that a story based in the 15th century would suffice. Alas I was wrong. The story, but mainly Philippa Gregory’s way of writing about the story and all of the historical characters that she featured was riveting stuff. Infact it was quite hard to believe that some of it actually went on! It seemed even more dramatic than I’d ever hoped for, with adultery, womanising, incest, murder, witchcraft and torture paying prominent parts. That it was true, with a few fictitious adornments was amazing to me. And it was by no means boring. I was completely won over. After reading the story about the Boleyns, namely about the scandalous behaviour of the Boleyn sisters Mary and Anne, I went onto read The Boleyn Inheritance. It was hard for me to get the books when I needed them so that I could read them in order so on the occasions when I couldn’t get the next story in the trilogy I would replace it with another. I was following the story quite well though, and of course some of it I remembered from my History classes at school (I loved History). But I had never studied The Plantagenets before so it was interesting to read about there position in history, and how and in what order they were related to the most famous king (perhaps of all time) Henry VIII. Perhaps my favourite book of them all was The Other Boleyn because it was just so scandalous and unbelievable (whilst mostly being real), that I couldn’t put it down.
I also really liked The Lady of the Rivers, the story about Elizabeth Wydeville (Lady Grey) and her rise to becoming The Queen of England. Some of it was a little fantastical, as I’m sure the magical element to the story was a little overexaggerated if not added in for effect, but overall it was a very fascinating story with some really strong characters.
The Kingmakers Daughter was written about the daughter of Richard, Earl of Warwick and her surprising (but shortlived) rise to be Queen. She was only Queen for 2 years.
The White Queen, not to be mistaken with The White Princess, (which is about her daughter Elizabeth Plantagenet who married Henry VII), is about the reign of Elizabeth Wydeville, the York Queen who married Edward VI of York.
The Constant Princess is the story about Queen Katherine of Aragon, who had the well documented marriage with King Henry VIII and who consequently was pushed aside to marry Anne Boleyn. It was a great story of steely reserve and endurance. Speaking as a woman in the 20th century, it’s almost completely inconceivable for me to think that women weren’t allowed to do or indeed say anything back then. They simply were not heard. They were considered inferior in every way and therefore their thoughts and opinions didn’t matter. The only thing they were good for was breeding. And that’s not me being crass, that’s me being real. I loved the fact that all of Philippa Gregory’s books were about women in the historical era, and there absolute strength and resilience. Through her it showed how inequality was allowed to manifest, and how much (though not completely) it’s changed since then. I kept on thinking whilst reading that I just wished, I wished I could be there in that time (not to be part of it because I have a great love of cleanliness, beautiful smells, warmth and comfort), but just to SEE. Philippa gets your imagination going but if just for a moment I could be there like a fly on the wall looking down, I would love that.
The Queens Fool, a story about Edward VI’s fool Hannah Green was okay. I didn’t enjoy it all that much because it seemed a little unrealistic to me. She was employed by Edward to amuse and entertain (as his holy fool) and got caught up in the sisterly rivalry of Elizabeth and Mary I.
The Virgins Lover is about Queen Elizabeth I and her ongoing, distructive obsession with Robert Dudley. It sees her undecided as to whether she should marry against her will as she was in love with Dudley, or marry down (Dudley) and disobey and anger her advisors and people. Elizabeth was a very strongwilled and stubborn person, and in the end she dies a virgin and thus leaves no one to succeed the throne. I liked this book but I did find all of the sordid things she got up to with Dudley and the supposed intensity of there love a little over the top and thus unrealistic.
The Red Queen is the story of Margaret Beaufort, the strongwilled and influential Mother of King Henry VI, and her efforts to get Henry VI the throne of England, despite him not having the strongest claim to the throne and being in exile in Brittany for many years.
The Other Queen is the story of Mary The Queen of Scots following her fleeing Scotland on Queen Elizabeth I (her cousins), false promise of sanctuary, and the suspicious and unsteady relationship between the two monarchs. Philippa goes into detail about the strained relationship between Mary, and her guardians wife Bess of Hardwick. This book is a great read.
I have now finished all of Philippa’s books in this trilogy, bar one which was only just released a few weeks ago: The Kings Curse http://www.philippagregory.com/books/the-king-s-curse but I will definitely be acquiring it soon!
Listed in order of reading (I think, please don’t quote me on this):
The Lady of the Rivers http://www.philippagregory.com/books/the-lady-of-the-rivers
The White Queen http://www.philippagregory.com/books/the-white-queen
The Kingmakers Daughter http://www.philippagregory.com/books/the-kingmaker-s-daughter
The White Princess http://www.philippagregory.com/books/the-white-princess
The Constant Princess http://www.philippagregory.com/books/the-constant-princess
The Other Boleyn Girl http://www.philippagregory.com/books/the-other-boleyn-girl
The Boleyn Inheritance http://www.philippagregory.com/books/the-boleyn-inheritance
The Queens Fool http://www.philippagregory.com/books/the-queen-s-fool
The Virgins Lover http://www.philippagregory.com/books/the-virgin-s-lover
The Red Queen http://www.philippagregory.com/books/the-red-queen
The Other Queen http://www.philippagregory.com/books/the-other-queen
If you haven’t read any of these books already, then you should definitely pick yourself up a copy, and let me know what you thought. And if you have already read one or some of them then please let me know your thoughts.
I think I’m going to move onto another fantasy trilogy next as I can’t seem to get any books from similar authors from my library on this subject matter. I am reluctant to buy anymore books when I can get most of them from the library. I’ve just finished reading a biographic novel by Alison Weir on Elizabeth of York. It was pretty good, but FULL of detail (which I understand for the purpose of authenticity needed to be done but it could be a little tedious at times). But the book was good in that it gave such a detailed account of the period that you were left in no doubt that the characters did exist as they were described.
Elizabeth of York http://alisonweir.org.uk/books/bookpages/eliz-york.asp