Title: The Lady of the Rivers
Author: Philippa Gregory
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: ARC (thanks, Simon & Schuster!)
Release Date: October 18, 2011
What you'll love: Jacquetta. Intriguing and strong.
What will bug you: The lack of choices for women in this time period.
Jacquetta is a descendant of the goddess Melusina and has always possessed the gift of second sight. At the age of fifteen, Jacquetta is married to the Duke of Bedford. While his wife, her second sight is explored, as the duke is heavily involved in the mysteries of alchemy. During this time, Jacquetta's sole friend is the duke's squire, Richard Woodville. After the death of the duke, Jacquetta and Richard become lovers, then husband and wife. The couple serve in the court of King Henry VI, and Jacquetta becomes a close friend and confidant to the new queen.
Conflicts arise and the court is thrown into turmoil and uncertainty as the Duke of York tries to usurp the king and claim the throne. The story is centered around Jacquetta, the mother of the eventual white queen.
It's been awhile since I've read anything by Philippa Gregory. I had forgotten how wonderful her writing is and how rich the period detail is in her books. I love it when authors immerse you in the time period, and Gregory does that beautifully. This time period is unfamiliar to me, so it was a real treat to explore.
I enjoyed the mystery surrounding the goddess Mesulina. It was an interesting layer to the story. How neat would it be if there were truly people with this second sight? When looking back through history, I wonder how many of these supposed visionaries actually thought they were seeing anything real. Perhaps they were being made to attempt to see the future - resulting in the fabrication of details they simply could not see? Were they fatigued or chemically influenced in some way (at one point Jacquetta is asked to sniff some white powder to help her see...)?
Jacquetta was a fantastic character. I love how she married Richard despite his social status, and how although she had to be guarded and diplomatic she was strong. I find it interesting how some people were able to keep themselves close to important figures - even as these important figures changed over time. How unfair it is that there were people who were living in luxury and playing the court games in order to stay in favor, yet there were people barely scratching out a living elsewhere. I also find it interesting and depressing how few options were available to women during this time period. Marriage was about improving your situation, not choosing a life partner.
The idea that the king is born into this role and that people trusted this person to lead a country is unbelievable. Were these people actually qualified for the job? They were simply born into the right situation. Even now, no matter who is in positions of power, there will be some who think the person is not qualified - yet the majority of people do think they are qualified or they would not have been elected. Hundreds of years ago, it was kind of a crap shoot - you could have a leader who is capable and able to look out for the general good of the people (not just his favorites), or you could get someone who is at best, bad at the job, or at worst, completely nuts.
This was really a great book and I highly suggest you pre-order it today! You won't be disappointed!
Full disclosure: I received a free copy of The Lady of the Rivers in exchange for an honest review.