FRAN BARDSLEY discusses our new book of the month, set in the War of the Roses

PHILIPPA Gregory is of suitable stature in the world of historical fiction that she almost needs no introduction.

Famed for presenting complex historical intrigues through the viewpoints of some of the most fascinating women in history, such as Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl, which became a hit film starring Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman, she does the same here in The White Queen for a lesser-known figure, Elizabeth Woodville.

First published in 2009, the novel is back in the public eye with a forthcoming BBC adaptation.

Spanning nearly two decades, The White Queen throws readers into the middle of the War of the Roses.

Elizabeth Woodville, a widowed commoner who boasts her family are descended from the legendary water goddess Melusina, bewitches King Edward IV into marriage – whether through her womanly charms or witchcraft is one of the enduring themes of the novel.

The story follows the rise of her and her family as the wars rage around her.

As always, Gregory weaves historical fact with contemporary rumour and gossip and pure fiction to tell a unique version of this bloody period of history.

Elizabeth was the mother of the two tragic princes in the tower, who disappeared and were believed to have been killed, and the latter part of the novel builds up to this mystery.

Gregory provides her own answer to what might have happened.

It is a novel packed with internecine rivalry, the corrupting force of ambition and power, built around a simple love story, that of Elizabeth and her Yorkist King.

For anyone with a grasp of the history, that love story will be overshadowed by the knowledge of what will happen to their two sons.

The novel does not shy away from sometimes graphic descriptions of bloody battles, and shocking depictions of the atrocities committed on both sides of a war that saw cousins and even brothers pitted against each other.

Told from Elizabeth’s perspective, we experience war from the view of the woman waiting at home, anxious for news, unsure whether a knock at the door will signify defeat and disaster, or victory and triumph.

The nature of loyalty and trust is brought up time and again.

No-one comes off well in moral terms, with even our protagonist, for the most part sympathetically drawn, literally cursing her enemies, and standing quietly aside as her husband commits unspeakable crimes.

While everyone seems to have the same name – there are enough Edwards, Henrys, Margarets and Elizabeths to give you a headache – it stops short of bewildering the reader.

And if it does leave you reaching for the history books – or Google – to find out which king followed which and who was whose son, that is no bad thing.

To buy The White Queen for half price, get Thursday's Guide in the Mail (June 6)