Title: The Lady Of The Rivers
Author: Philippa Gregory
Series: The Cousins' War
Year published: 2011
Time It Took To Read: 3 days
This isn't really my first book of the year. I started it over a month ago, but never really got into it. I made myself sit and finish it over the last couple of days, in between the revelry/drunkenness of the new year. I was vaguely unimpressed.
I'm quite a fan of historical fiction, especially from the Plantagenet and Tudor eras. I've read the other two Cousins' War books, and much preferred them to this rather sketchy offering. It centres on the life of Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford and Lady Rivers. She was the grandmother of the Princes in the Tower, great grandmother of Henry VIII, through the maternal line, mother in law and grandmother in law of two kings.
The book begins with the capture and death of Joan d'Arc, moves through to Jacquetta's virginal marriage to the Duke of Bedford, her passionate and fecund marriage to Richard Woodville and her links to the monarchy of the time. A factual study of her life would be fascinating reading.
This fictionalised account places her at the heart of the beginning of the War of the Roses. However, trying to tell the story from her perspective involves a lot of jumping around, in both time period and place, to ensure that she can witness events that she may not have witnessed. The best historical fiction makes the transition between what is historically known and what is imagined seamless. This book does not manage that.
The focus is on her alleged mystical powers, stemming from her legendary descent from the water goddess Melusina. The book alleges that her first marriage, to the Duke of Bedford, was formed solely so he could use her sorcery. Her relationship with her queen, Margaret d'Anjou is explored in detail, with enormous emphasis on the witchcraft element. The natural conclusion of the witchcraft/Melusina storyline would be to Jacquetta's trial, and acquittal, for witchcraft in 1470. Instead, the book ends with her daughter, Elizabeth Woodville, meeting Edward III, in 1464. The story then picks up in The White Queen, which predates this book by several years.
In short, it's a bit too patchy and I found it difficult to concentrate. I believe the series should have been written and published chronologically, though in Philippa Gregory's defence, she didn't plan to write the book until she was researching The White Queen.
I will definitely be buying the later instalments of this series though.