Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Lady of the Rivers, Philippa Gregory

Jacquetta has heard that her family is descended from the water goddess Melusina. She has heard that this genealogy is what has given the women in her family the ability to see the future. But, she’s also heard that using this “sight”, and even merely possessing it, is a crime punishable by death.

Nevertheless, one surprising day Jacquetta receives an explanation of and training in how to use the sight. Not everyone has it, and her family knows that honing it is the most important thing for those who do. After all, only by honing it can the owner hope to survive.

Not everyone is unfamiliar with Jacquetta’s gift, however. One fateful evening, the Duke of Bedford and Jacquetta meet, and that encounter serves as the turning point in Jacquetta’s life. After marrying the Duke and becoming the Duchess of Bedford, Jacquetta is surprised to find that her new role in life is less focused on being a wife than on using her sight to predict the future of England’s war with France.

When her husband dies unexpectedly, Jacquetta is surprised to find that her life at the English court affords her freedom as well as the ability – nay, need - to avoid using her sight. She is put to service in the young queen, Margret of Anjou’s, household. She soon finds, however, that her life is not destined to consist solely of work. Before she knows it, she is married to Richard Woodville and the mother of several children.

For readers familiar with Tudor history, Jacquetta is none other than the mother of the woman who would become Richard IV’s so-called “commoner queen”: Elizabeth Woodville. In her most recent work, Philippa Gregory focuses on the mother of one of the most controversial queens, wife of one of the most revered warriors of his time and also the woman who followed her heart and created a home filled with the love and laughter of which she always dreamed.

Jacquetta is the perfect subject for Gregory’s extremely accurate and engaging intellect and writing skill, and Gregory shines in all 435 pages of The Lady of the Rivers. The novel itself flows with descriptions of the multiple lives the heroine led as well as the knowledge, instinct and keen interest to understand the world around her that made her one of the most revered, and sometimes feared, women of her time. The wording, tense plot and portrayal of other characters of the period evoke images of the novel that first catapulted her to our world, The Other Boleyn Girl. With its delicious twist and turns, The Lady of the Rivers is a must-read for all historical fiction aficionados.

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