LADY OF THE RIVERS is Philippa Gregory’s latest foray into the world of the Wars of the Roses. Ms. Gregory has a talent for picking out a female heroine, who is both very interesting and totally unknown. She managed that feat with Elisabeth Woodville in THE WHITE QUEEN and Lady Margaret Beaufort in THE RED QUEEN. Now we have Jacquetta de St. Pol, a Burgundian princess born to wealth, fortune and arranged marriages, who seemingly threw it all away for the sake of love, in the shape of the well-favored Sir Richard Woodville, a mere knight.
Fast forward twenty-eight years, and Jacquetta resumes her position as the aristocrat she was born to be, through a very fortuitous marriage. So fortuitous was this marriage, that the people of the time whispered that she had practiced the Black Arts in order to secure it.
Philippa Gregory is so talented, and I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning of the novel where she introduced us to Jacquetta’s world, seen through the eyes of a fourteen-year-old, and her encounters with Joan of Arc. But Ms. Gregory knows how to handle her material, and although Joan was riveting, at no time did I feel that she was overpowering Jacquetta or Jacquetta’s story. (This is not true of other novels I have read, which have included Joan as a “minor” character).
However, I did think that the pacing of the novel could have been improved. There were a couple of times where the novel went too fast. One was the death of Joan, which I felt was cut too soon. All I needed was more of a response from Jacquetta, some image or physical response that made you understand that this experience was seared into her forever. The other time where I felt that Ms Gregory lost an opportunity was with John of Bedford, Jacquetta’s first husband. Although he was menacing, he wasn’t menacing enough. I would have liked to have seen real fear on the part of Jacquetta about this man who was not only the cause of her friend’ death, but was also asking her to do what he’d killed the other young woman for. Of course, all of this was presented to the reader. But I felt that its handling was too intellectual.
Apart from these concerns, this novel is an enjoyable read for those of you interested in 1400s England.