The latest installment of Gregory’s “Cousins’ War” series focuses on Anne Neville, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker, wife first of Edward, the Lancastrian claimant to the throne, then of Richard of Gloucester, later Richard III. She’s an intriguing character in that she had a moderately close brush with being the Lancastrian queen of England (if the Warwick/Marguerite d’Anjou alliance had succeeded in deposing Edward IV, and if Anne’s husband Edward had then succeeded his father, Henry VI). Then, later, she became queen by marrying the last Yorkist king. It was certainly a life full of twists and turns, and she died before she was 30.
What makes Anne kind of a frustrating character is that, unlike some of the other powerful women of this era (Cicely Neville, Elizabeth Woodville, Jacquetta Woodville, Marguerite d’Anjou), Anne was even more of a pawn than women usually were in this time period. Interesting things happened to her, but because none of them were instigated by her, it’s very hard even to imagine the kind of woman she was. This has led to portrayals of her as everything from hopelessly in love with Richard to the miserable victim of a forced marriage, and any of these readings can be supported by the few biographical facts we know, because we never see Anne making her own decisions.
This makes her a poignant and in many ways a sad character, and that’s largely how she comes across in this book. Gregory does try to put a little more power back into Anne’s hands by having her make a few key decisions on her own, but I found this in general, while readable and enjoyable, a weaker novel in this series than some of the others (The Red Queen is still by far my favourite). She does some interesting things with point of view here, having written this series from the p.o.v. of both Yorkist and Lancastrian characters, so we get to see characters who were portrayed as sympathetic in earlier books (the Woodvilles, especially) coming off badly here. This is interesting, but there are many cases, especially in the portrayals of Richard and his brother George, that I felt the characterization was just weak and inconsistent. Richard, particularly, seemed early in the novel like he was going to be developed as a really rich, multifaceted and complex character, but he never got the promised development and so came off as “contradictory” instead of “complex.” All in all, this was an interesting and worthy effort to get inside the head of a little-known character, but I didn’t feel it was entirely successful.