Review: Lady of the Rivers – Philippa Gregory

Good afternoon folks!! Here’s wishing you all a happy Friday!!!

Today I will be giving you my thoughts on the latest read I finished on Monday night (at a time verging on being socially unacceptable given I have to get up at 6:45am the next day) – Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory.

I am loving historical fiction at the moment; not only have I read some amazing books of the genre recently… turns out I have been buying quite a few this month too! To name a few, these include The Elizabethan World by Lacey Baldwin Smith, Mayflowers for November by Malyn Bromfield and just last night I treated myself to Eagles in the Storm by Ben Kane.

I tell myself repeatedly to chill the f**k out and buy fewer books, but most of the time I see them on offer, and who can refuse a bargain? It’s not like I am buying books I won’t read… so it isn’t a waste of money. That’s what I tell myself anyway!

GoodReads – Lady of the Rivers

Lady of the Rivers

So now I know why Philippa Gregory is a popular historical fiction writer. For me the biggest factor in whether I am going to be able to see a book from one cover to the other is writing style. If I can’t hack the style (Shakespeare and Dickens please accept my sincerest apologies), it’s unlikely I will finish it. Not impossible, but not likely either. I like to read books, not study and analyse them to death.

It goes without saying modern books are easier to read in terms of the language and grammar the author uses to tell the story. To take Shakespeare as an example, I do not get iambic pentameter. I can hear it when spoken (David Tennant is amazing at this I might add) but I cannot read it. Shakespearean plays are fantastic theatre – yet somehow I cannot translate the archaic terms into something meaningful unless I can see the emotions unfolding before my eyes, or read the text about six times over with the help of the wonderful internet to tell me what has happened.

I far prefer simpler writing styles for reading – especially with books that are taking you into a new timezone, society and culture. Both of my recent reads, River God by Wilbur Smith and Lady of the Rivers achieved this very well. There is no better feeling than getting lost in a book, investing yourself in the characters and hoping for the best for them throughout the conflicts and uncertainties they have to navigate. If the language the book uses is too different from my own, there is a resistance there and I can’t get into it.

Equally, some modern language I despise too. If a character was going on about their “feels” for their boyfriend or “spending time with the fam” – I want to punch them for being a lazy s**t for not pronouncing that one extra and evidently taxing syllable. I’m qualified to say this – sadly it is my peers that are using this language.

I have digressed. I apologise, but my point is this; this book is neither of these extremes. Lady of the Rivers is narrated from the perspective of Jacquetta, a young woman who navigates through the English court during the conflicts in the Hundred Years war. She is initially married to the Duke of Bedford, uncle to the King, and the marriage is in many ways political. Jacquetta’s heritage is believed to be descendant from a Goddess and the Duke of Bedford wishes to keep her pure and use her powers to foresee the outcome of the war with France.

After the Duke of Bedford’s death, Jacquetta longs to be loved and for the closeness of an intimate partner. She falls into the arms of the Duke’s squire, Richard Woodville and marries him in secret, without the King’s permission. They are as good as made destitute having to pay a fine and live purely off the land left to them, but their family thrives. The Woodville’s fortune changes when Jacquetta’s cousin marries King Henry VI. Richard proves himself to be an able soldier and commander; he is sent to France to hold Calais  after the loss of Normandy.

Henry VI proves to be an overly pious yet inadequate King, unable to make up his own mind about matters of state. As a result, there is much in-fighting between the members of his council who try to persuade him to their way of thinking.

A note of personal interest to me was when the Duke of Gloucester and his wife were tried for treason and sorcery against the King. The Duke was executed, the “witch” accused alongside them burnt and the Duke’s wife, having aided these two was imprisoned in Peel Castle on the Isle of Man until her death fourteen years later.

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Sunsets at Peel Castle are gorgeous to watch – as you can see.

Matters at court go from bad to worse as rebellions weaken the position of the King and ultimately the King’s health takes a turn for the worst. Queen Margaret has to take over and there is much resentment at a French woman ruling in Britain. The Duke of York, heir to the throne until the birth of a royal heir is excluded from court and events unravel in such a way that sparks the beginnings of the Wars of the Roses.

I read the book to give myself background to start the series spanning the period of the Wars of the Roses and I wasn’t remotely disappointed. The book is written in a remarkably approachable way. It is history – but you don’t get bogged down with facts. Having looked into it, the book is written very well in terms of being historically accurate, but the most important thing is that it is able to be enjoyed and entertaining. I never got the opportunity to learn British history like this at school, which to my mind is utterly stupid. It’s my country’s history. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to learn in other ways than through formal education and I hope there are other people out there of the same opinion as me. Every day is a school day, they say.

I would be inclined to agree.

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