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Book Review: The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory (3/5). All this talk about fortune’s wheel is making me dizzy.

14 Oct

When trying to find a book set in the 1400s, I was ecstatic to see that there was a Philippa Gregory set in that time period! She is one of the writers that drew me to Historical Fiction in the first place and it’s always good to return to a writer you’ve enjoyed before.

Cover Image via

Cover Image via

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

Summary from Goodreads:

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 19, she took the extraordinary risk of marrying a gentleman of her household for love, and then carved out a new life for herself.

This book was exactly what I was looking for. On one hand, that’s a good thing because it means I found it wonderfully enjoyable, greatly written, and full of historical detail without being slow or bulky. On the other hand, it didn’t surprise me. Gregory’s Cousins War series has been hit or miss for me and I’ve read three of them, The White QueenThe Red Queen, and this title. I liked that this one ended right where The White Queen began with Jacquetta’s daughter, Elizabeth. Overall, I was happy with it, but it wasn’t as entertaining as The Queen’s Fool or The Virgin’s Lover or some of Gregory’s other, more notable books.

Gregory does an amazing job bringing historical figures to life. My favorite was the King. His insanity was entertaining and frightening at the same time.  The intricacies of court life were very interesting and I realized I’d rather not be a part of court life in the 1400s. I was amazed at how many times Jacquetta gave birth but it was more common in those times to have as many children as possible. I can’t imagine having a child and my mother giving birth a few months later! That was hard to wrap my head around.

Jacquetta was a great character. She was manipulated a lot by Queen Margaret, but she still stuck to her own. I thought it was very realistic that she was more concerned with her family and its safety than the Lancaster cause. I liked that Jacquetta was involved in the politics so that the reader knew what was going on in the War of the Roses but focused on Margaret. She was a really interesting character and I liked reading about her as well, but she was so disagreeable and unlikable that I couldn’t latch on to her. Jacquetta was much more agreeable.

Richard was always away from his family and doing what he was asked to do for the sake of his country. It seemed a lot like a modern job to me; being away from your family and working all the time with no vacation. I didn’t blame him at all for being almost relieved when he didn’t have to fight in France any more. It’s like how a company losing a contract can be a sort of relief for project managers when it means they can spend more time with their families. He was the most relatable to me.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the King’s insanity. They helped my sympathize with Margaret and understand where her power-hungry attitude came from. It was comical but not too much so. It was an overall tragic situation and was presented in a way so that the reader knew the King was suffering from a real mental handicap, but the things the said were still a good comic relief in comparison to the war around him.

Philippa Gregory Image via Amazon

Philippa Gregory
Image via Amazon

Jacquetta seemed whiney and weak to me during her first marriage to the Duke. I was actually hoping he would die quickly because I wanted to move on from his character. I didn’t like how he used Jacquetta for her innocence and he pushed her to ‘see’ things that sometimes she didn’t see. I, like Jacquetta, was looking to Richard to save her from her obsessive husband.

Like many of Gregory’s books, I saw a message of loyalty in this novel. Jacquetta had to align her loyalties to her house, her queen, and her husband at once and later had to keep in mind the loyalty of her son-in-law and the new King. She toyed a line between those in power and those she was loyal to. At the end, it almost felt as if she’d given up on loyalty and wanted to escape from all courtly devotions. I didn’t blame her, I was tired of the War by the end.

Writer’s Takeaway: Gregory does an amazing job of mixing historical fact with fiction and storytelling. I learned a lot about the War of the Roses reading this book, but I was still entertained by the story of Jacquetta and Richard and how they fought for the King and Queen. I think Gregory’s success in this genre is a sign that she’s a good example of historical fiction writing.

Overall good, but not outstanding. One of my favorite writers, but not my favorite book. Three out of Five stars.

This book fulfills 1400-1499 for my When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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