Jacquetta of Luxembourg is a woman who, according to Philippa Gregory, history has neglected, mainly for lack of information; married first to the Duke of Bedford and then rather scandalously to Richard Woodville, a commoner, Jacquetta was an observer of many of the most important events during the Wars of the Roses, indeed outliving most of the primary players. Her daughter Elizabeth married the English king Edward IV, catapulting her family even more into the spotlight than ever before.
We start off with Jacquetta as a young girl, where she meets Joan of Arc and learns first-hand what can happen to a woman in English hands who is accused of being a witch. Joan, obviously, had a lot more behind her death sentence than supposed witchcraft, but if that’s what they used to have her killed, it’s a threat to a girl who was supposedly descended from Melusina as well. At this stage, however, Jacquetta and the Duke of Bedford get married, and as it turns out, Bedford is only interested in her because she is a virgin and is supposed to have magical powers. Meanwhile, while trying desperately to see the future, Jacquetta is also busy falling in love with her husband’s squire.
While I actually liked both Jacquetta and Richard, and I enjoyed the alternate perspective on the Woodvilles, portraying them as not grasping social climbers but people, there were still too many flaws with this book for me to enjoy it thoroughly. Jacquetta’s constant foreboding and feelings about the future hindered the book and made her a much flatter character; she knew what was coming too often to have an authentic reaction when these things actually happened.
This also contributed to the massive slowdown in the middle of the book. Jacquetta alternates between court and having babies, and while I know having children should be a joyful experience, I really got bored here. Nothing else actually happens to Jacquetta, and the entire war happens outside of her purview. Her husband gets sent off, and then her son, and she frets about their safety, what feels like over and over again. Since I knew what happened to Richard Woodville, as will many people who’ve read anything else about the Wars of the Roses, this got old fast.
Honestly, part of the reason for this is that Jacquetta just isn’t a compelling enough character on her own, for me, to have a fantastic novel written about her. She would have worked much better as an alternate narrator paired with someone on the sidelines than having a book all to herself. There is too much telling and not enough first-hand witnessing. The beginning was interesting, especially the witchcraft element with Joan of Arc and Eleanor Cobham, but the book loses speed after that and peters out to an ultimately disappointing, though predictable, ending.
Philippa Gregory fans will probably want to add The Lady of the Rivers to their collection, but personally I much preferred both earlier books in this series and would recommend in particular The White Queen.
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