The Lady of the Rivers (The Cousins’ War #3)
#1 New York Times bestselling author Philippa Gregory weaves witchcraft, passion, and adventure into the story of Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, a woman who navigated a treacherous path through the battle lines in the War of the Roses.Descended from Melusina, the river goddess, Jacquetta has always had the gift of second sight. As a child visiting her uncle, she meets his prisoner, Joan of Arc, and recognizes her own power in the young woman accused of witchcraft. They share the mystery of the tarot card of the “wheel of fortune” before Joan is taken to a horrific death at the hands of the English rulers of France. Jacquetta understands the danger for a woman who dares to dream.Married to the Duke of Bedford, English Regent of France, Jacquetta is introduced by him to a mysterious world of learning and alchemy. Her only friend in the great household is the Duke’s squire Richard Woodville, who is at her side when the Duke’s death leaves her a wealthy young widow. The two become lovers and marry in secret, returning to England to serve at the court of the young King Henry VI, where Jacquetta becomes a close and loyal friend to his new queen.
Drawing on years of research, Philippa Gregory tells the story of the Woodvilles who achieve a place at the very heart of the Lancaster court, though Jacquetta can sense the threat from the people of England and the danger of royal rivals. Not even their courage and loyalty can keep the House of Lancaster on the throne. Henry the king slides into a mysterious sleep; Margaret the queen turns to untrustworthy favorites for help; and Richard, Duke of York threatens to overturn the whole kingdom for his rival dynasty of the House of York.
Jacquetta fights for her King, her Queen, and for her daughter Elizabeth Woodville, a young woman married to a neighbor for whom Jacquetta can sense an extraordinary and unexpected future: a change of fortune, the throne of England, and the white rose of York.
A sweeping, powerful story based on history and rich in passion and legend, The Lady of the Rivers tells the story of the real-life mother to the White Queen. Philippa Gregory is writing at the height of her talent.
Philippa Gregory takes a step back farther in time with The Lady of the Rivers; after exploring the lives of the various Tudor women in a succession of novels, she now dives into the rich and complicated history of the Wars of the Roses. This was a period in the 1400s where two branches of the Plantagenet royal family struggled for power over England (and various bits of France).
The protagonist in The Lady of the Rivers is Jacquetta of Luxembourg, who is not generally a well-known historical figure. The story covers Jacquetta’s life from adolescence to middle age, and Gregory fans will realize that it ends with the beginning of Gregory’s 2009 novel The White Queen.
I’ve been critical of Gregory’s kings-and-queens novels in the past, mostly because I would like to see more pure fiction from her, but I enjoyed The Lady of the Rivers. As usual, though, I did not find the protagonist particularly interesting; I felt that she was an observer of history rather than being a participant in it. Of course, in those days a noblewoman’s role was to run the house and lands while the men fought (Jacquetta does plenty of that) and produce children (Jacquetta had sixteen). So maybe the impression of passivity that I received was due to the necessity of sticking fairly close to historical fact. The bits of white magic that all of Gregory’s heroines inevitably indulge in do not come across as exciting enough to compensate me for the lack of action.
And yet there were some definite improvements over recent novels in the series. For one thing, Jacquetta gets to travel around quite a bit, and even though she’s not in the battles I did get a better sense of being near to the action than I usually do. And the supporting cast was good; I particularly liked Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI’s queen, and I found the account of Henry VI’s mental illness compelling. There were several other memorable characters; in fact, I now understand the Wars of the Roses a whole lot better. So if you read historical fiction for the history, you’ll be satisfied.
I’m not going to say much about Gregory’s writing idiosyncracies here, since what I was reading was a galley (which had not even been edited for capitalization and paragraph layout; that surprised me). I desperately want to send her the gift of a big bag of semicolons, though. Gregory is the undisputed queen of the comma splice.
One last comment; I have been reading Gregory for years, and am fascinated to note that the novels are getting less sensual as time goes on. This one was PG-rated.
Overall impression: a good Gregory, and recommended for lovers of English history.