The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Although this isn’t my favorite of the handful of Gregory books I’ve read, it did give me a great sense of respect for the author. That she was able to create a character so unlikeable, selfish, vain, and entitled, and somehow make us sympathize and pull for that character is a testament to the author’s skill. It helped that most of the characters in the book were equally despicable, or more so, ensuring that even though our heroine has few redeeming qualities, we still want what she wants. It also helped that the character was all these things in part because of the awful things that were done to her because of circumstance (being a woman in this time period, of a certain social standing) and the convenience of others (mostly her own family).
The aspect of the novel that struck me most powerfully wasn’t the character, although the protagonist is developed well (unlike many others in the novel). What struck me was the historical background—not the events themselves, which I already knew in outline, but the details of the period. The way children, especially females but almost equally males, were treated by adults horrified me. They weren’t thought of as human at all, but as political pawns used to increase wealth, status, or connections to royalty. Little girls were married off in whatever fashion was most advantageous to the family, while little boys were taken from their families to be raised by others so they could form alliances with other powerful households. That no one ever seemed to stop for a half-second and ask, “Is this going to damage this child?” seems to speak volumes to the money-, power-, and position-hungry mindset of the time. In this social class, those close enough to royalty to increase their standing by manipulation of fortunes through their children, seemed a despicable lot as a whole. That they were too busy vying for position to notice that their children might need, say, a mother, is a testament to the age-old money-grubbing nature of man, and reminds us that this is nothing new in our society, but something that has been going on for centuries, sometimes in more horrible forms than others.
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