The Lady of the Rivers
by Philippa Gregory


Touchstone (Simon and Schuster), 2011. ISBN 978-1-416-56370-9.
Reviewed by Becca Taylor
Posted on 09/06/2011

Fiction: Historical

Philippa Gregory's The Lady of the Rivers has all the hallmarks of a sweeping saga: romance, rivalry, betrayal, grief, and battle. In Jaquetta, Duchess of Bedford, we have a heroine who is beautiful, smart, and determined to keep safe all of those she holds dear. Beginning with Jaquetta's childhood in France, where her great-aunt becomes a champion and protector for the struggling Joan of Arc, and spanning nearly 35 years, The Lady of the Rivers offers a unique view of the English royalty of the 15th century.

As the daughter of a French nobleman, Jaquetta grows up hearing of her family lore that tells of their descent from a goddess, Melusina, and the gifting of the females in that lineage of a second sight. She learns at a very early age the dangers of being a powerful woman in a culture dominated by the rule of man. Married to an English Duke for her reputed power of foretelling, Jaquetta is thrust into the intrigue of the English royal court. Then as a dowager lady-in-waiting to the Queen, she and her family become major players, and often powerless bystanders, in the constant battles between the Lancasters and Yorks.

Gregory shapes a distant time and place, England during the Wars of the Roses, into a stark and poignant tableau of a world where powerful and intelligent women are forced to mask their power and intelligence behind the fortunes (or misfortunes) of their husbands and fathers. Inevitably, implications of witchcraft and devilry are levied against these women who embraced destinies that set them apart from their contemporaries, both male and female. Beyond the colorful storytelling that brings the court of the Plantagenets to life, Gregory gives the reader insight into the exultation, fear, and joy that extraordinary women such as Jaquetta experienced as they navigated the unruly and unpredictable whims of male-dominated society. And this is Gregory's gift: pulling out of the shadow and bringing to life the stories of amazing women whose lives have been made obscure by the histories made commonly by man.

Historical fiction writers have a dual duty: crafting a compelling story and staying true enough to the facts to educate the reader about their subject's life and times. If you are a fan of Gregory's fictional accounts of the Tudors and Plantagenets, The Lady of the Rivers will not disappoint. If you haven't discovered Gregory's strikingly detailed reenactments of these historical periods, Jaquetta's tale will likely get you hooked.

Read an excerpt from this book.


Philippa Gregory is the author of several bestselling novels, including The Other Boleyn Girl, and is a recognized authority of women's history. She studied history at the University of Sussex and received a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh. Fans will be delighted to know that Gregory will be conducting a 13-city North American tour, her first in two years, in conjunction with the publication of The Lady of the Rivers. Visit her website for more on her other books, historical research, newsletter, and tour dates. Visit this site for more information about this book, including book club resources.

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