12.18–The Lady of the Rivers

I am such a huge fan of Philippa Gregory. I just think she is the bee’s knees.  The Lady of the Rivers is the third book in The Cousins’ War series, which follows the War of the Roses. This novel is the prequel to The White Queen–the first of the series.

Jacquetta is a descendant of Melusina, a river goddess, and therefore possesses special gifts–namely the second sight.  An early experience with Joan of Arc and her untimely demise gives Jacquetta a life-long fear of using these gifts, though she is occasionally ordered by her sovereign to do so.  Her marriage to the Duke of Bedford and her early widowhood yield her great privilege throughout her life, but also put her in great danger as England’s political cauldron boils over into chaos.  Standing by her side through all of these troubles is her second husband Richard Woodville, who she married for love, and her innumerable children.

Philippa Gregory does extensive research on all of her novels and this one is no exception.  Jacquetta was a real woman whose life occurred right at the beginning of the War of the Roses. Gregory became fascinated by this relatively overlooked woman and expounded on her story.  As ever, I am astounded by Gregory and her capacity for creating beautiful stories out of minor characters from history.  Jacquetta is an easy heroine to love.  She does all she can to protect her husband and children during this dangerous period in English history.  She is a close friend and confidant of Margaret of Anjou, the wife of King Henry VI.  Henry comes to the throne as a boy and never quite becomes a man. He is always naive, and Margaret is no help in that vein.  Jacquetta and Richard attempt to herd them in the right direction, but the monarchs’ petty quarrels with the Duke of York evolve into all out war within their lifetime.  Jacquetta, thrust very close to the throne by circumstance and some family meddling is caught in a vise from which she cannot escape.  Her instinct for self-preservation and diplomacy make her one of the most admirable women in the court of Gregory’s creation.  She is gentle and loving to her husband and children, and sweet to a fault with the queen.  The fact that she’s descended from a goddess and possesses supernatural powers is just a bonus.

The love between Richard and Jacquetta had me burning with envy throughout the entire novel.  As with Gregory’s other books, The Lady of the Rivers spans a very long period of time–from Jacquetta’s childhood to her twilight years.  Richard loves Jacquetta from the moment he sees her as his lord the Duke’s new bride until his death decades later. Though they spend much of their life apart, their passion never fades and neither of them strays from the other.  Each time they are separated, Jacquetta is frantic for his safety, and they fall into each others’ arms like young lovers on his return, even after she has borne him 14 children (ouch!).  In a genre in which it seems like everyone sleeps with everyone (at least according to our favorite juicy historical fiction) it is really refreshing to read about a couple that is still happily devoted to one another.

Gregory’s novels can sometimes be a bit repetitive, especially in this time period.  She does a lot of jumping forward in time, and skims over events that she deems less important to her stories.  During this war, the power switches sides a lot, and everyone accuses everyone else of treason.  Though a lot of people cry foul on each other and it can seem rather trivial and petty, Gregory does a fine job of reminding the reader that this situation is constantly life-and-death for Jacquetta and her family.  It adds tension to the story and keeps the reader engaged despite the repetition.

This is by far one of my favorite Philippa Gregory novels.  Though I try not to read books in a series right next to each other, I may have to go pick up The Kingmaker’s Daughter, just because this novel left me craving more of her writing style.  Definitely read it!

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12.4–The First Apostle

This is  definitely a poolside read, or in the case of our Texas”winter” when poolside is a not-so-distant-but-still-not-here concept, a bathtub book.  It is quick and easy, and a little below my intelligence level (pardon my elitism).

James Becker is apparently an aspiring Dan Brown.  The book is another conspiracy novel in which the Vatican is hiding a massive, powerful, world-view-altering secret from the unsuspecting masses.  The implication is that this secret will shake the very foundation of Christianity right out from under the believers’ feet.  Though still irritating, I no longer find this type of novel offensive.

The novel opens with the unintentional murder of a British housewife, living alone in a mansion in Italy while her husband travels for business.  The murderers have broken into her house to investigate a Latin inscription her builders uncovered during renovations to the house.  After her death is ruled accidental by Italian police, her husband and his friend, a police officer named Bronson, follow the trail of clues missed by the Italian police which indicate that Jackie’s death did involve foul play.  This trail leads them to repeated encounters with the Italian mafia, across European borders, and deep into the hills and caves surrounding Rome in pursuit of this “earth-shaking” secret.

The plot sounds exciting, and it is a good quick read. Unfortunately the novel is a bit too predictable and cliche, making it difficult to enjoy fully.  There was never anything truly absorbing about it. The characters were not deep enough for me to care about.  Nor was the plot at all believable.  Every solution to every problem was a bit too convenient and far fetched, which did nothing to encourage the suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader.

Other than that, there isn’t too much to say on the book.  If anyone does want to read it, I would hate to give any of the “twists” away, though the reader will likely be able to guess them for themselves.  As I close, I must apologize for the selection of books I’ve made this year, and for my slow reading.  Not many of my reviews have been encouraging.  I’m in the process of reading a best seller right now, and I’m really hoping that I will be able to give you some shining praise for it, so as to inspire you to rush out and pick it up!