The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

Book 3 of the Cousins War series

Historical Biography and Romance – Late Middle Ages

Heat Rating – 1.5

Review rating – 5 stars

Blurb:

Jacquetta, daughter of the Count of Luxembourg and kinswoman to half the royalty of Europe, was married to the great Englishman John, Duke of Bedford, uncle to Henry VI. Widowed at the age of nineteen she took the extraordinary risk of marrying a gentleman of her house-hold for love, and then carved out a life for herself as Queen Margaret of Anjou’s close friend and a Lancaster supporter – until the day that her daughter Elizabeth Woodville fell in love and married the rival king Edward IV. Of all the little-known but important women of the period, her dramatic story is the most neglected. With her links to Melusina, and to the founder of the house of Luxembourg, together with her reputation for making magic, she is the most haunting of heroines

Review by LadyOfMisrule

As a solid Philippa Gregory devotee for many years, and a proud Yorkshire lass at heart, I was initially very excited to hear that Gregory was going to turn her attentions to the War of the Roses. I was, however, quite disappointed with The White Queen and my hopes were dashed yet further by The Red Queen. I found Elizabeth Woodville to be too weak a character for my taste, and Margaret Beaufort incorrigible and offensive. I appreciate that Gregory chose to write these books in this way, but personally I did not enjoy them and they failed to live up to my expectations of Gregory’s work (which, to be fair, at this point are quite high). For this reason I was not overly excited about Lady Of The Rivers, and so I have only just got around to it almost a year after publication. I have been very pleasantly surprised by this book, and it’s leading lady, Jacquetta.

The book opens with Jacquetta St Pol as young girl living with her family, one of the greatest in Luxembourg, in English-owned France towards the end of the Hundred Years War. It follows Jacquetta through two marriages, through two wars and across two countries over the course of 30 years or so. Jacquetta witnesses as a young girl the fate of Joan of Arc, and takes the wise words of her great-aunt, Jehanne, to heart;

‘This is man’s world, Jacquetta, and some women cannot march to the beat of a man’s drum. Do you understand?’

Jacquetta quickly comes to understand that any power she may have must be wielded in secret, as to show men the true extent of what she can achieve will result in suspicion, and perhaps worse. Her fears are borne out and her views confirmed when she sees one woman after another rise to prominence in one way or another, only to be brought low by fearful men. This is one of many themes that Gregory weaves masterfully into the story. She also uses the tarot card the Wheel of Fortune, with its accompanying hand signal, to signify just how much someone’s fortunes can change. This device is initially introduced by the Maid Joan, but runs throughout the story. The use of tarot and other small spells and charms, by Jacquetta and others, is done extremely well and really brings to life the intrinsic mysticism of these superstitious times. Gregory also adds a few nice touches, such as how Woodville finds Jacquetta in the forest, and the reason behind the sleeping king’s unending dream, which manage to blur the lines between mysticism and reality a bit without ever overstepping the mark, and these small moments really did enhance the whole reading experience for me.

The book is paced well, Jacquetta is at the heart of court life for most of the novel, but Gregory manages to expertly balance Jacquetta’s personal life and feelings with her place in the events of the age. I did not feel at any point that there was anyone or anything that was being neglected. The sleeping King Henri and his queen Margaret are brought to life very well, Jacquetta is loyal to the house of Lancaster and seeing them through her eyes makes it much easier to sympathise with these oft-demonised historic figures. Richard Woodville, Jacquetta’s scandalous love match, is also well presented. Although he is absent for much of the novel, he is nonetheless strongly characterised by his love for Jacquetta, his strength and bravery (which are shown throughout the novel) and his sense of duty. He is a perfect match for Jacquetta, and their love runs throughout the novel without ever becoming tiresome and overbearing.

Jacquetta is eminently likeable and relatable, a strong and brave woman with an indomitable spirit and an unerring sense of duty fighting tirelessly for her place in a world dominated by men. The novel fully immersed me into medieval Europe and I really did feel as though I was in Jacquetta’s shoes, seeing through her eyes. After the relative disappointments of the earlier novels in the Cousin’s War Series, Lady Of The Rivers is a rousing return to form for Gregory. A true gem.

LADY OF MISRULE

Hi, I’m Bek , a twentysomething bookworm, but I prefer to call myself a member of the Literati. I have been a big fan of historical fiction for almost a decade. I am a proud Yorkshire rose, and my interest for history was initially sparked by the War of the Roses, but has from this seed bloomed into a full on passion! I am a person who is never satisfied unless they are learning, or working towards something. Books set in a historical setting help me to scratch that itch, and my lengthy commute to work and back every day means that I often get through them at a good pace! I’m also a sucker for a good, tasteful love story 🙂

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