In the final year of my undergrad Galaxy chocolate ran a competition, an ‘eat a bar of chocolate, enter a code and win a free book’ type of competition. Now I must have worked my way through a million bars of chocolate (yes I exaggerate) and not a free book in sight. My housemate ate ONE bar of Galaxy chocolate and lo and behold, she only won a book! Luckily for me, my housemate was/is a lovely person and she very kindly gave me the free book, and this is how I came to discover the novels of Philippa Gregory. Ever since I have been slowly working my way through the Tudor Court novels and the Cousins War novels.
The Lady of the Rivers is the third novel in the Cousins War series and follows the life of Jacquetta, the daughter of the Count of Luxembourg, who marries the Duke of Bedford and becomes a part of the English court of Henry VI. On the death of her husband Jacquetta marries for love and comes to play a pivotal role in the reign of Henry and his wife Margaret. Jacquetta is a descendent of the water goddess Melusina and has inherited some of the goddess’ powers; she can see the future, although she cannot always make sense of her visions. These visions help her to survive in the ruthless world of the 1400s and to overcome the dangers brought by a fight for the throne.
I always enjoy picking up a Philippa Gregory novel because I know I will be transported to another era; I quickly become enthralled in the comings and goings of the English Court, regardless of whose reign is the focal point of the novel. For me Gregory is a master at describing the sights, smells, sounds and fears of various points in British history, and her choice of main characters is a particular draw and a reason I return to her novels and follow her writing. I love how Gregory explores the lives of influential women in history; yes it was very much a man’s world, and it is important to discover and tell the story of women throughout history and this is something I feel Gregory does well. Her female characters are ones who have had an impact on the shape of British history, but are often those that we know little about, and this is particularly true of the Cousins War series; so far the novels have focused on Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort and Jacquetta. I am sure there are people out there who have heard of these women, or who have studied them at some point during their education, but for the vast part of the population I imagine these names mean very little, but maybe I am only demonstrating my own ignorance with that sentence.
The Lady of the Rivers did not disappoint me or dampen my love and appreciation of Gregory and historical fiction as a whole. I enjoyed the exploration of magic and the fear that was brought through the use of alchemy and certain types of learning. It was dangerous to be a woman who did not conform to expectations, and this is something Gregory depicts accurately and effectively. This is especially true of Queen Margaret, who attempts to take over the reign of her husband after he loses his mind. She is rejected by the British public, who make it clear they want a man, and what’s more a British man on the throne and not a foreign born female, who they see as weak minded, fickle and untrustworthy; she is accused of entrancing the King and committing adultery, which led to the birth of an illegitimate son. The characters of Margaret and King Henry were perfectly described and came off as shallow and poor leaders, who were easily influenced by others in the Kingdom. They were frustrating and annoying, which made them great ‘bad guys’ in my opinion, even if they aren’t supposed to be viewed as such.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and I feel a strong urge to reread the first two novels in the series, both of which I wholeheartedly recommend. I look forward to reading the next installment The Kingmaker’s Daughter which I believe is due for publication in August…another one for the ever increasing ‘te read’ list.