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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My review of The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

About the book:

Passion. Danger. Witchcraft . . .

The Lady of the Rivers is #1 New York Times bestselling author Philippa Gregory’s remarkable story of Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, a woman who navigated a treacherous path through the battle lines in the Wars of the Roses.

Descended from Melusina, the river goddess, Jacquetta always has had the gift of second sight. As a child visiting her uncle, she met his prisoner, Joan of Arc, and saw her own power reflected 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.

Jacquetta is married to the Duke of Bedford, English regent of France, and he introduces her 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.

The Woodvilles soon achieve a place at the very heart of the Lancaster court, though Jacquetta can sense the growing 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.

Jacquetta fights for her king, her queen, and for her daughter Elizabeth 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 rich in passion and legend and drawing on years of research, The Lady of the Rivers tells the story of the real-life mother of the white queen.

My review:

I couldn't stop reading this book and picked it up every chance I could get until I finished it. It's a bit long, but worth it. In fact, when the story ended I had hoped to read more. That's good writing. Now I want to read the next book, but I do have the non-fiction book, The Women of the Cousin's War, so I think I'll indulge in that a bit while waiting. There is just something about Gregory's writing that draws me every time. It feels so real that I forget I'm reading. She brings her characters to life. 

The Lady of the Rivers was full of action, very interesting, incredibly romantic, and kept my interest throughout. The author showed the horrors of war, and the sometimes agonizing service of noblemen for a troubled royal family and their kingdom very well. Sometimes with historical fiction it feels like the author is informing the reader about history, but with Gregory's characters, she brings history to life.

I loved that Gregory showed the whole witchcraft thing not as something Jacquetta embraced, but avoided whenever possible. In fact, Jacquetta didn't want to have anything to do with it, but she had this gift as a descendant of Melusina. She had a gift that often foretold sad and tragic things. I was impressed that she resisted as much as she did considering it seemed like many times her foretelling came to pass, so most people would want to know more. But she was a loyal and faithful wife and mother who wanted the best for her family.  That didn't include jeopardizing their well-being over some things that could brand her as a witch. And the way people were in those days, she was smart to tread very carefully around the subject. 

I had to admire her and her husband's loyalty for so long to a queen bent on vengeance. How sad that so many people died for one woman's need for revenge. I thought it was cool how this story tied in a bit with The Red Queen, which I read a few years ago. I recalled some of the battles and the shifting loyalties from that title. This story began with Jacquetta getting to know Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake and another woman who was intelligent and trying to educate herself, but misunderstood. Jacquetta was a smart and resourceful woman (and VERY fertile) and she was a real asset to the Lancaster throne. 

I found the subplot with the queen and the Duke of Somerset quite enthralling. When the king fell ill after being shocked by what he saw, I became wrapped up in the intrigue. Would he wake, and when he did, what would happen? Did Jacquetta's intervention cause his sleep. She was so worried that she had somehow caused it. I understood the queen's loneliness as well as Jacquetta's before Richard won her heart and they married. The author did a great job with creating empathy for the characters.

The best part of the book was probably the love story between Richard and his wife, Jacquetta, who married for love, but at a great risk. I enjoyed the parts of the story where she looked for him after different battles and how she waiting fitfully for his safe return. When they ran to meet each other each time it was sigh-worthy. There were good marriages even in the middle ages. The fact that they had fourteen children was proof of that. I could go on and on about this book, but bottom line is the story was so compelling and interesting that it's making my best fiction list for 2011 because it made me think and feel a connection to the characters that I won't soon forget.

The Lady of the Rivers was published by Touchstone Books and released in Oct. 2011.

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