Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory (2011)

At this point, I think I've read almost everything Philippa Gregory has written, with varying degrees of appreciation.  I either read The Queen's Fool or The Other Boleyn Girl first; I know I read one after the other, many years ago, but I don't remember in what order.  I read The Constance Princess and remember nothing at all about it; I read The Boleyn Inheritance about Jane Rochford and Catherine Howard, and enjoyed that one immensely (if not as much as the first too).  The Virgin's Lover I remember feeling "meh" about.  The Other Queen, Mary Queen of Scots' story told from the point of view of Bess of Hardwick was quite good as well.  I remember really liking two of her earlier books set in Elizabethan times,  Earthly Joys and Virgin Earth as well.  (there are a few books by Gregory I haven't yet read; I definitely will add them to my list, because quite frankly, her early books are among her best written; they seem less hurried.).

The Cousins' War is Gregory's latest "series."  The White Queen was about Elizabeth Woodville, which I devoured.  The Red Queen was about Margaret Beaufort Tudor, and I gave that a poor review and wondered if Gregory was writing too fast and losing her touch.  The Lady of the Rivers, however, places Gregory right back into the stable of authors I enjoy.  The Lady of the Rivers isn't as good as her earlier works; it lacks some of the mystery of The Other Boleyn Girl and The Queen's Fool, and a few parts seem a little rote - there is definitely a Gregory "style" and The Lady of the Rivers follows that formula:  unique first person narrative.  In this instance, it was Jacquetta Woodville, mother of Elizabeth Woodville, accused of witchcraft, and ultimately Henry VIII's grandmother.  The Woodvilles, at least in books I've read about The Wars of the Roses, tend to get painted with the same brush - slick upstarts who tricked (or witched) their way into King Edward IV's bed and court - very much like the Boleyn's.  Gregory's use of Jacquetta as the narrator of the story of the beginnings of the Wars of the Roses is quite clever and interesting.  Margaret of Anjou always gets tarred and feathered as well, and using Jacquetta, a dowager duchess and lady in waiting to Queen Margaret as the eyes and ears of this particular court, one gets a slightly different picture of the queen.  She's still a she-wolf of sorts, but who can blame her - a husband who thinks sex is a sin, who ends up mentally ill; surrounded by lusty men like Edmund Beaufort; in the end, she must protect her son - a lioness rather than a wolf... but also sadly out of tune to the time and place of England at this particular venture.  That is another characteristic of the Gregory formula - to take a familiar historical character, and turn them on their head.  Henry VIII becomes a petulant, spoiled, arrogant fool.  Elizabeth Woodville, a white witch rather than wicked.  Margaret of Anjou, slightly more sympathetic (certainly more than Sharon Kay Penman's Margaret in The Sunne in Splendor, a book that only deserves to be read once).  Gregory, by hook or by crook (or bell, book and candle in this particular series?), makes certain that we the reader understand that women's choices in this age and time were never, ever cut and dried.  Gregorian women are always powerful, and but always powerless too - like the wheel of fortune that plays such a prominent role in The Lady of the Rivers.  All Gregorian female protagonists are on the Wheel, which takes them up and takes them down.  I guess history proved that to be true as well.  Gregory obviously takes artistic license with the lives of these women, but they truly lived these lives.

I was trying to figure out the current queen of England would be descended from Jacquetta Woodville as well, and in turn the river goddess Melusina, right?  Although the blood of that goddess must be pretty thin by now.  (Jacquetta of Luxembourg } Elizabeth Woodville } Elizabeth of York } Margaret Tudor } King James I & VI} Elizabeth Stuart } Sophia of Hanover } George I } George II } Frederick, Prince of Wales } George III } Prince Edward, Duke of Kent } Victoria } Edward VII } George V } George VI } Elizabeth II).  Very thin.

The Lady of the Rivers (The Cousins' War, #3)The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A solid entry in the growing works of Philippa Gregory.  This is pure Gregory - the narrative and first person point of view, a plot that involves powerful women rendered powerless, reviled historical characters seen through sympathetic eyes. Jacquetta Woodville makes a terrific and interesting protagonist, and Gregory brings her to life; in fact, all the Woodvilles (usually placed on the historical dustbin just above the Boleyns) are given an amiable light.  Even Queen Margaret gets sort of a white washing, although she doesn't come out of this smelling like a red rose.  This doesn't have the weight and mystery of some of Gregory's earlier works, but it's still a ripping read.  

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