England in the 15th century isn't exactly a stable place to be if you're royalty. The Wars of the Roses leave the throne bouncing back and forth between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians. Princess Elizabeth of York spends much of her time in and out of sanctuary, hiding while her father, Edward IV, defends his throne. After her father's death, her younger brother is crowned Edward V- and he, along with younger brother Richard, are sent to the Tower of London by their uncle, who becomes King Richard III of England. What happens to the boys after that is one of the great historical mysteries, and no one is able to say for certain whether one or both of them died in the Tower. The final outcome of the Wars of the Roses is determined at Bosworth Field, and Henry Tudor, a Lancastrian, beats Richard III and becomes Henry VII of England. In an effort to legitimize his seat on the throne and end the wars once and for all, Henry marries Elizabeth.
The King's Daughter by Sandra Worth is Elizabeth's story. Elizabeth of York holds an interesting place in history: she is the only Queen of England to have been daughter, sister, niece, wife, and mother of kings of England. Yet she doesn't receive much attention- she certainly doesn't receive the same level of attention as the wives of her son (Henry VIII). But that doesn't make her any less important. It was for her sake that subjects were willing to accept Henry on the throne.
For me, The King's Daughter was everything that a historical fiction novel should be: it's a new take on a familiar story, and every single character is absolutely believable. I've mentioned that I studied history in college, and my interest has always been with British monarchs. But I don't know much about monarchs preceding Henry VIII, and this book made me want to run for my history books, and order books on monarchs that predate my books on the Tudors. My curiosity is piqued, and I want to know more.
One of the things I loved most about this novel is that it didn't fall into the traps that plague many historical novels: tawdry (and unbelievable) love scenes, and women with 21st century sensibilities. Certainly, there were strong women at the time. Henry's mother, Margaret Beaufort, was one of them- and Worth's portrayal of Margaret Beaufort is historically accurate. But Elizabeth herself was kind of a doormat in some ways, and that's okay. Worth doesn't portray her as weak and insipid, but as the type of woman who knows to pick and choose her battles- and she does so with dignity and class. And in regard to my first point, there is one scene I can recall in the novel that involves physical intimacy, but it's not particularly titillating. There were scandals and intrigues enough during this time that it's not necessary to invent more.
I highly, highly recommend this book. I will be reading Worth's other novels, and I will likely be doing it sooner rather than later. It's one of the best historical fiction novels I've read in a long time.
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Rating: 4.5 stars
Publisher, ISBN: Berkley, 9780425221440