By Suzanne Wardle
Lovers of “The Other Boleyn Girl,” rejoice; Philippa Gregory has returned with her second novel to revolve around a pair of sisters. And this latest addition to Gregory’s “Cousins’ War” series is a worthy one.
The star of “The Kingmaker’s Daughter” is Anne Neville. Her father is the earl of Warwick, nicknamed the Kingmaker because his support was key to Edward IV winning England’s crown for the House of York.
Warwick is disenchanted after Edward marries commoner Elizabeth Woodville. He schemes to put his other daughter Isabel’s husband on the throne instead, then Henry VI, whom he helped depose. Eventually he goes to battle against Edward himself.
Anne grows up amid this tumult of switching alliances and unreliable loyalties. Warwick, eager to see one of his daughters as queen, marries Anne into the House of Lancaster, the royal family’s rival. When her husband is killed in battle, Anne is at a loss, the young widow of a would-be usurper and the daughter of a traitor stuck in a court full of enemies.
The story should sound familiar to those who have read “The White Queen,” Gregory’s novel about Elizabeth Woodville. In “The Kingmaker’s Daughter,” Gregory flips that book around, turning the daughter and wife of the villains into the heroine and creating a much more satisfying tale.
The book is well paced from start to finish; the politics of York vs. Lancaster are clearer through Anne’s eyes; and Anne herself is a charming heroine — fearful, determined, ever conscious of her family’s errors yet determined not to let them overshadow her.
Other key characters are also done well, including Elizabeth Woodville. Gregory turns her former heroine into an excellent villain whose alleged sorcery is threaded throughout the novel. Richard III, often portrayed as an evil, twisted murderer, here is a wholesome, chivalrous man whose motives are noble.
Gregory’s stories of the buildup to the House of Tudor have been hit or miss. “The Kingmaker’s Daughter” is definitely the former, with a fresh, sharp style that Gregory hopefully will continue in the next installment.