29. The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory. Narrated by Bianca Amato and Graeme Malcolm.
When I first started listening, I was afraid I had gotten the wrong tape. The description was of a young woman begging for a cross, and receiving one from a hated Englishman. She was about to be burned at the stake, and a king whom she had saved would not save her--how did I accidentally get an audio about Joan of Arc?
But it turns out that instead, Gregory uses Joan of Arc as a guiding narrative force in the life of Margaret Beaufort as she uses the water goddess Melusina as a narrative guide to Elizabeth Woodville's life in The White Queen. I found this devise less annoying, as it was evoked less often, and presented more as Margaret's imagination than a "true legend."
I personally enjoyed The Red Queen far more than I did The White Queen. Gregory's true triumph here is the character of Margaret Beaufort. There are few deviations from her narration, and these are read in a male voice, presumably a third-person narrator. Margaret Beaufort does not have the Sight-and she is far more interesting for it.
No, Margaret Beaufort has to cope with what life hands her, and it is quite shoddy. Gregory graphically, but sympathetically describes the horrors of twelve-year-old Margaret's brief marriage to Edmund Tudor and the nightmarish childbirth that brought Henry VII into the world.
Margaret, abused and abandoned as she is, clings to her belief that she is special in God's eyes and that her son will someday be king.
Some might find her character insufferable, but I find her both sympathetic and amusing. It is hard not to pity her in the beginning, and through that pity, one comes to sympathize with a woman whose belief that God supports her is so strong that she will order the murder of two innocent young boys.
Yes, the mystery of the princes in the tower is suggestively solved in this novel. Gregory proposes an intriguing conspiracy between Margaret, then Margaret Stanley, and the Duke of Buckingham, to murder the sons of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. This would seem to technically absolve the primary suspects, Richard III and Henry VII, though both of these men suffer Elizabeth Woodville's curse on the firstborn son, pronounced in the The White Queen.
The two novels overlap, though The Red Queen spans a greater period of time. The little parallel moments that Gregory has placed in her books are not especially compelling and I wish she would have dispensed with them. The way she has built her Wars of the Roses universe, however, neither book is complete without the other. And both books should have their conclusion in The White Princess, featuring Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Elizabeth Woodeville and daughter-in-law of Margaret Beaufort. I notice, however, that Gregory has embellished the universe with a novel on Elizabeth Woodville's mother, The Lady of the Rivers, and one on Anne Neville, Richard III's wife and The Kingmaker's Daughter.
If you enjoy characters that are highly unaware of themselves, implacably stubborn, and improbably conniving, pick up The Red Queen, or listen to it. I could hardly wait to get to my commute to hear how Margaret would deal with her next dilemma. The historical events here are much better-known and more straightforward than in The White Queen, but the character voice will keep you thoroughly entertained.