The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory is a historical fiction novel, spanning about thirty years from the death of Joan of Arc to the beginning battles of the Wars of the Roses. The book follows Jacquetta of Luxembourg as she becomes a duchess of England and confident of the royal family. It is the first book in a series of 15 called the Plantagenet and Tudor novels.
I read this book on the recommendation of a friend of mine from my writing group, after mentioning my fondness for Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories. I got it from the library and gave it a read, and I really got into it.
The book is, mostly, historical fiction. I say mostly because Jacquetta has some very minor supernatural abilities. She can heard music when someone she knows has died, and can divine impressions of what the future will hold, enough to prepare herself but without being able to influence events. The author is very careful to use these abilities to augment the story without unending it.
The main character is not a major actor in the world; she commands no forces and wields no power. But as a duchess she has the ear of the queen, and much of the book is spent either trying to advise the queen on how to fix problems, or cataloguing the events of her era as they impact her family and her life. Her main focus in keeping her family safe.
What I really got into was the court of King Henry VI and how utterly ridiculous it came across. The king and queen (Margaret of Anjou) are shameless about rewarding their friends (the Lancasters) and insulting their enemies (the Yorks). As a reader I kept looking at their decisions thinking, ‘How do you think this will end well? You’re so blatantly playing favorites and then having a tantrum when things go sideways.’ I presume this has at least some basis in historical reality.
Also, I found the book was amusing because I spent most of it annoyed with the characters. First the English lords who burn Joan of Arc, then the Lancasters for being corrupt, then the Yorks for not respecting the Lancaster king. Not a lot of good guys in the leadership.
Anyway, I had fun reading the start to this series. I’ve already got the second one from the library, though I can’t start it until I finish the interim book.