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.
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It's no secret I'm a big fan of Philippa Gregory's, though I'm still working on reading her backlist of books. The Lady of the Rivers represented something new for me: a more complete look at a series (in this case, The Cousins's War).
Ms. Gregory is known for her portrayal of historical women, giving life to otherwise one dimensional historical facts. This is very much the case with Jacquetta. What is interesting though, is that all of the characters involved in the Cousins' War are given this same opportunity and, as such, you feel empathy for them all. But the stories throughout this time period are about picking sides. Ms. Gregory gives equal attention to each woman, making it hard to do that. Fortunately, which ever side we would choose today has little relevance to history.
What I enjoyed most in The Lady of the Rivers was that it skillfully highlighted the contrariness of the times. A woman had little value in society, even when you were related to such people as Jacquetta was, but allies could be won or lost based on which woman a man choose marry. A woman is executed for heresy, yet a high ranking man can use another woman for her perceived "mystic gifts". The world they lived in was directed by the rules of God and king, yet so much energy went into alchemy, which was part science, part magic (and always unsuccessful).
It was a curious order that these books were written/published in, but I think it turned out extremely well for the series overall. The Lady of the Rivers, starts in a similar fashion to The Red Queen, though with the real Joan of Arc as the subject, then ends in a closely related way to The White Queen's beginning. Ms. Gregory does a masterful job of weaving familiar faces into the story that happens just prior to the other two books. This, as I mentioned before, completes the overall picture of these famous historical figures.
Ms. Gregory creates her version of these characters with love, humour, and real humanity, regardless of goals that are unimaginable to the common person today. The Lady of the Rivers gives us a glimpse (albeit, a somewhat fictional one) into another woman that guided England (and France) into the destinies that are still alive in the monarchy today. Beautifully written, with just a touch of otherworldliness.
And now for a few extra features, check these out:
You can click here to read an excerpt.of The Lady of the Rivers.
You can also see Philippa Gregory live! Here's the invite card (and if you click on the invite, you'll be directed to a fantastic Sweeps brought to you by the folks at Simon and Schuster Canada!):