The Whimsical Mama

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The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory September 2, 2013

Filed under: Book Review,Books — Maura @ 8:00 am
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Rating: 4 stars
Pub date:  15 September 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Adult Fiction, Historical, Fantasy
Format: hardback, obtained from the Public Library


#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.

I was so happy with this book. I was greatly disappointed with The Red Queen and I was hoping this series would be redeemed quickly. Lady of the Rivers wasn’t everything I was expecting, but it was MUCH better than the disaster of Margaret Beaufort. Jacquetta is a more human character. She has flaws and she accepts them. She knows that even though she is a very smart and talented female, she lives in a time that is dominated by men who fear an educated and opinionated woman. She quickly learns when to reveal her knowledge and when to hold her tongue.

Lady of the Rivers opens when Jacquetta is a young teenager in the court of the Demoiselle. It is just after Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) has been captured, but before she is turned over to the English. Smack dab in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. Jacquetta quickly realises that even though Joan is now just a girl and no longer in charge of a vast army, everyone still fears her power. She is helpless as she watches as Joan is taken, tortured, forced to confess, charged as a witch and heretic, and burned at the stake. Jacquetta, as a woman as of a powerful and influential family, is forced to watch her friend die. This is when she realises that even though she is intelligent, she must always allow men to think they are in charge.

Soon after, she is married to the English regent of France, John, Duke of Bedford. He is uncle to the King of England. His wife dies, and he wastes no time in pursuing Jacquetta. He does not wait the year of mourning before they wed. It is soon revealed that he married her for her lineage, the rumour of being a descendant of the water goddess Melusina. He is in pursuit of the Sorcerer’s Stone. He uses her to try to see the future. Her only friend in the world is the Duke of Bedford’s squire, Richard Woodville.

When Bedford dies, Woodville and Jacquetta become lovers and eventually wed in secret without royal permission. They are soon welcomed back to court and Jacquetta is asked to attend on Margaret d’Anjou as she comes to marry King Henry. It is the start of a long and loyal relationship. She fiercely serves the queen despite her many short comings.

She tries to warn the queen about those she favours as she alienates other powerful families. When the king suffers a mental breakdown and “sleeps” for over a year, the kingdom begins to fall apart. It is the beginning of the War of Roses. Cousin turns on cousin as families battle for the control of England. It starts the bloody split between the House of Lancaster and the House of York.

Relations continue to quickly deteriorate and the House of York takes control of England. First by holding the king, and then after the Duke of York is executed and his son, Edward takes control, eventually take the throne.

Jacquetta’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, is left a widow due to the fighting. Jacquetta foresaw that Elizabeth would have a great future. The beginning of this future stars as Elizabeth’s mother-in-law will not grant her her dower lands and Elizabeth is forced into penury and must return to her parents’ house. She decides to fight for her lands for her sons. She decides she must confront the new king – King Edward. The tale ends when Elizabeth is returning to Grafton with the king after appealing to him for her dower lands. Though this is where Lady of the Rivers ends, it leads right into the beginning of The White Queen.

It is not necessary to read Lady of the Rivers before you read The White Queen. For a continuation of the historical timeline, I would suggest you read Lady of the Rivers before White Queen, but just to enjoy the series of The Cousins’ War, I would suggest reading them in publication order.
Recommended for: Lovers of history, a bit of romance, and a bit of magic
Not recommended for: Those who are not interested in English history.


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