Wednesday 14 September 2011

Review: - The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

I'm not actually back yet, I'm just posting this as it should have been posted last week but I ran out of time with all the wedding madness going on! There will be a specific post about all that craziness for those of you lovely supportive people who are interested, and I will be back to regularly (ish) scheduled posting next week. For now, I'm going to get back to the wonderfully relaxing Yorkshire countryside, and leave you with this!

The Lady of the Rivers is the new book in Philippa Gregory’s series about the women involved in the Wars of the Roses. It comes out on September 15th, and I would have posted about it sooner except that as many of you know, I got married on Saturday and have been stuck in wedding chaos/on honeymoon ever since! However, I did manage to finish the book in the run up to the wedding, and it did a great job of calming my nerves!
The two books in the series so far – The White Queen and The Red Queen – have focused respectively on Elizabeth Woodville the wife of Edward IV, and Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. The Lady of the Rivers is about a woman whom I found to be profoundly interesting throughout both of the previous novels; Elizabeth Woodville’s mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg. Many of Gregory’s novels highlight the religious and the supernatural and the differences between devoutness and witchcraft, and this novel does so in possibly the most positive way of any of her novels I’ve read so far. As I already knew from reading The White Queen, Jacaquetta’s family are supposedly descended from Melusina, a spirit of the water who married a man on the condition that he never come into her rooms on a Sunday. For many years they were married, but eventually he broke the condition and saw her in her natural form; half woman, half serpent. He was unable to accept her for what she truly was. Desolated, she left him taking their daughters with her but returned to sing around the house whenever a member of her family died. This mystical lineage has also left many of the women of the family with some supernatural powers, and Jacquetta is one of them. As a young girl, she reads the tarot cards for Joan of Arc, and accidentally foretells her death, and this is just the beginning of her forays. At the age of 17 she is married to the Duke of Bedford, who wants to use her powers, along with her innocence and purity in his quest for the elixir of life. Following his death, Jacquetta falls in love with his squire, Richard Woodville, and they eventually marry. The marriage was fairly epic, producing something like sixteen children, and the novel spans many years, many battles, and many births. It tells the tale of the very beginnings of the Wars of the Roses; when England began to fight itself.
In previous of Gregory’s novels concerning witchcraft, such as The White Queen and The Wise Woman, the supernatural has felt very sinister at times, but in The Lady of the Rivers, with the exception of one particular time, the mysticism feels very benign. Jacquetta learns early on that cursing people is unpredictable, and only uses her powers for herself or in extreme need from that point onwards. I really liked that about her – there is nothing evil about her, she uses her abilities only in order to help her family.
I really enjoyed this book. For me, the amount of work and research that Philippa Gregory obviously puts into her books is just phenomenal. Alongside The Lady of the Rivers, I was also sent a non-fiction book entitled The Women of the Cousins War: The Duchess, the Queen, and the King’s Mother, which is three essays – one each about Jacquetta Rivers, Elizabeth Woodville, and Margaret Beaufort. I’ve just started reading it, and it is absolutely fascinating. Because there is often nowhere near as much research on the women of the time as on the men, there is a lot more work to be done in uncovering their stories, and Gregory does such a good job with merging fact and fiction that it is almost impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.
The thing that I loved most about the novel was the development of Jacquetta herself. The novel begins with her as a young girl and ends with her as an older woman, watching her daughter and her grandchildren go out to meet a king, and her progression from innocent child to strong, dignified and almost regal woman who can survive anything is really thoroughly done and very believable. The story immersed me without me even noticing, and as always with Gregory’s books, I came away from it feeling immeasurably more informed than when I began. I will be very interested to see where she goes next after this novel, as she comes pretty much full circle to the beginning of The White Queen.
There is a lot more that I could say about The Lady of the Rivers, but I don’t want to ruin it for anybody. With every book I read I become a bigger fan of Philippa Gregory’s work. I was really overly excited when I got the book from Simon and Schuster, and if they hadn’t sent it to me I would have been out the door to buy it the moment it came out! It’s a brilliant blend of scandal, intrigue, betrayal, and brilliant women standing up for themselves, and I loved it.

Rating: *****


  1. Hello Sadie Sadie, Married Lady! :D

    Argh, I can't wait to read this. I've kind of burned myself out with late Tudor historical fiction lately, so it'll be nice to read about a different (well, kind of) time period.

  2. First of all, I am HOOKED by that cover--so gorgeous! I wanted to ask though...I've never read anything by Gregory. Would this be a good place to start, or should I read The White Queen first?

    Marlene Detierro (Rogue River Fishing)