Review: The King's Daughter

The King's Daughter, by Sandra Worth

A Quick Synopsis
This is a historical fiction novel about Elizabeth of York, daughter of England's King Edward IV, wife of King Henry VII, and mother of King Henry VIII. Told in first person narrative, the story follows Elizabeth from her childhood to her death at the age of 37.

Elizabeth of York

The Literary Criticism
It is important to understand that author Sandra Worth was taking a chance here: many of the characters that appear in The King's Daughter (Elizabeth Woodville, Richard III, Henry VII, et al) have sharply divided both historians and historical fiction readers for years and as the old saying goes, you simply cannot please everyone all of the time.

Being relatively open-minded when it comes to any of these historical figures often frees me to read many books that might offend others, although I freely admit to being particular downright picky about historical fiction in general. Writers such as Sharon Kay Penman, Dorothy Dunnett and, more recently, Michelle Moran have set the bar, as it were, quite high. As a result, I am more critical than perhaps I ought to be when picking up a historical novel.

Perhaps The King's Daughter and I started off on the wrong foot. The word "woe!" is uttered four times within the first six pages. Melodramatic, thought I.

I also took exception to the good versus evil characterizations in the novel. Elizabeth Woodville, the mother of Elizabeth of York, is not just portrayed as ambitious, she is downright evil. Every nasty historical rumor ever uttered about this controversial woman was played out in this novel. She is a practicing witch, a hateful mother who engages in out-and-out physical cat fights with her daughter, a scheming harridan who would pimp out her virgin daughter to obtain throne of England. While there is enough historical evidence to conclude that Woodville was ambitious to a fault, the heaps of evil attributed to her in The King's Daughter ends up detracting from Worth's argument: that it was her ambition that significantly contributed to the ultimate demise of the Yorkists.

Richard III and Queen Anne, on the other hand, are presented as veritable saints. Not simply good people with only honorable intentions, but with a domesticity that could have been much more convincing were it not so drenched in saccharine. The perfect King, so in love with his perfect Queen, living in a fairy tale that the evil Lancastrians want to destroy. Again, a sound premise that was taken to a theatrical extreme.

King Richard III and Queen Anne

It must be said that Worth did not scrimp on the research for this novel. While there is no absolute evidence for many of the conclusions she reaches in the novel, this is quite within the historical fiction author's purveyance. The conclusions may have been more convincing, in my opinion, with more subtlety. It is indeed possible that Elizabeth harbored a love for her uncle and wished to marry him, but passages such as "We were never alone again after Anne's death, but our hearts were one each time our eyes met" were ever-so-slightly over the top.

I felt the novel greatly improved as the chapters went by. Once Richard kicked the bucket and Woodville headed off to the nunnery, things became far less melodramatic. Worth's characterization of Henry VII was temperate and because of this, quite believable. In fact, the novel improved so much that I even found flashes of absolute brilliance, such as the references to Machiavelli during Henry's reign. (Loved that!)

The basics of this novel are present: good research and plausible conclusions. I can't help but think that if Worth had just scaled it back a bit on the characterizations, this would have a very good piece of historical fiction instead of a fairy tale-esque melodrama.

The Recommendation
Whether or not you seek out a copy of The King's Daughter is going to depend entirely on your taste in historical fiction. If you've come to expect the quality of Penman, you might feel this one misses the mark, at least for the first half of the novel. But if you're more flexible with your historical fiction and can overlook the initial histrionics, you'll likely enjoy this read.

Title: The King's Daughter
Author: Sandra Worth
ISBN-13: 978-0425221440
416 pages
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Date: December 2, 2008

More reviews of this book in Blogland:

S. Krishna's Books
Cheryl's Book Nook
Reading With Monie
Devourer of Books
A Biblio Paradise

*Would you like to read this book? Leave me a comment and I'll draw a random name at on Friday and send it on to you!


  1. Have to review this one myself before the end of the month, I haven't started it yet.

    Every time I find a new historical fiction author I hope for someone as good as SKP, but I've always been disappointed. She sets a high standard. If only she could write as fast as we read...

  2. Interesting review Michele. Thanks so much for being honest!

  3. Excellent review. I will likely read this anyway because I like the genre; however, I'll pick it up with fair warning.

    Woe is me, I have so many books in the TBR that, oh woe, I may not get to this soon. Whoa Nelly! I'd better stop.

  4. @Beth F: LOL

    I'd like to read this. Thanks for the contest.

  5. I did enjoy this book, but your warnings to potential readers are very fair. I, too, laughed at the melodrama, especially at the beginning. It's funny you specified the word "woe", because that's the one that stuck with me, too. :-)


  6. I should also have specified that I would definitely read more of the author's work! Just because I wasn't crazy about this particular book, I think her subject matter of choice makes her an author worth another read. :)

  7. Me, too. I have "Lady of the Roses" ready to go for the 2nds Challenge in 2009. :-)


  8. *scrambling to look up 2nds Challenge*

  9. I'm very picky about historical fiction, so no need to enter me in the drawing. I just popped in to say I really enjoyed your review. I found it very informative!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  10. Great review! (I too thought the characterizations were way too extreme, and was wondering if other people were reading the same novel I did.) I also found that it improved in the second half. I've got it, so don't enter me in the drawing!

  11. Thanks for the honest review! I also enjoy historical fiction to be more realistic.

  12. This is a great review! I have already bought the book and plan to read it early next year. I think in general I'm more flexible - especially when I haven't read anything about the historical characters before. Did I enjoy reading the book? Did it make me want to learn more? are the main ways I qualify historical fiction for me. I'll be coming back to read this review again after I've finished the novel.

  13. Thanks for the honest and good review Michele. I've had this one on my radar for a while so I would love to be entered in the drawing for it if it includes Canada. I'd still like to give it a read. I think I'm pretty flexible with my historical fiction so I'd probably enjoy it. Thanks a bunch.

  14. I've read other Sandra Worth historicals, and enjoyed them, even if they don't compare with SKP. And, since I'm a Richard III defender, I'm more than ready to give this one a try. Please enter me. Thanks

  15. Michele--

    I just noticed the publication date! ;)

    It's only a typo but it made me smile!


  16. Carey - ha ha ha ha. I looked at it and just broke out laughing. A few hundred years off, eh?

  17. I'm not so sure I'd like this one. I guess I'm not a huge fan of melodrama in historical fiction, but then, I did like The Other Boleyn Girl and The Boleyn Inheritance so I don't know ...

    I think I'll start off with Penman and Michelle Moran.


  18. If you're sending international, I would love to be included for this book has been on my wishlist!

  19. International readers are most assuredly welcome!

  20. Hmm... not really sure about this one. It kind of sounds interesting but I'd probably have some of the same issues with it you did.

  21. Even after reading your honest review of this book, I think I would still like to read it if I'm not to late to throw my name into the hat?

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