The Lady of the Rivers ~ Philippa Gregory

This is the third book in the Cousin’s War series and it focuses on Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford and mother of the future Queen of England. Descended from Melusina, the river goddess, Jacquetta has always had the gift of second sight. Growing up in France, visiting her uncle, she meets his prisoner, Joan of Arc and recognizes her own power in the young woman accused of witchcraft. Jacquetta is soon married to the Duke of Bedford, English regent of France, and it is her husband who first introduces her to the dangerous and mysterious world of alchemy and who asks her to use her gifts to the benefit of England. Her only friend in the Duke’s household is a squire, Richard Woodville, who is at her side when the Duke’s death leaves her a wealthy young, beautiful widow. The two become lovers and marry in secret and return to England to serve in the court of the young King Henry VI and his French Queen Margaret of Anjou, to whom Jacquetta becomes a close and loyal friend. Henry the king slides into a mysterious sleep; Margaret the queen turns to untrustworthy favourites for help; and Richard, Duke of York threatens to overturn the whole kingdom for his rival dynasty of the House of York. Jacquetta fights for her King, her Queen, and for her daughter Elizabeth Woodville, a young woman married to a neighbour for whom Jacquetta can sense an extraordinary and unexpected future: a change of fortune, the throne of England, and the white rose of York.


If you are going to read this series, I would suggest starting with this book rather than with the White Queen as this book ends where the White Queen begins. It also provides a lot of background information about the War of the Roses and the lives of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. There are references to both of the previous novels in this book and a lot of scenes were repeated from the Red Queen.

The novel started out a little slow for me but it picked up about ¼ of the way in. I really enjoyed the character of Jacquetta and her “sight”. I also really enjoyed the romance between Jacquetta and Sir Richard Woodville – it was genuine and very well written. Even though they were both forced apart while serving their King and Queen, their marriage remained strong and fruitful – it was nice to see that for once true love could prevail against the odds.

I was not too impressed with the portrayal of Margaret of Anjou – she seemed like a spoiled little girl who pouts when she doesn’t get her own way. Margaret falls into the category of French Queens coming to England and things going downhill from there for the country. Every time Margaret opened her mouth I cringed because I felt like I was dealing with an annoying teenager, even in her later years. She was incredibly annoying and utterly stubborn. Maybe if she had not been so set on revenge and blinded by love with the Duke of Somerset, and if she had actually listened to those around her, maybe there would not have been so many problems in her life and the lives of her country. She also has a seemingly psychotic son, who may or may not be a legitimate heir to the throne.

Poor Jacquetta is trapped right in the middle of the War of the Roses, the war that tore England apart – she is good friends with the Red Queen, Margaret of Anjou and mother of the White Queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Jacquetta however plays her role perfectly, as she switches loyalties with ease. 

There were also a lot of miss opportunities for some major drama – the Duke of Gloucester and his ambitious wife Eleanor is a prime example of a pair who never reached their dramatic potential.

Overall I would say that this was a decent novel, not one of Gregory’s best works but still not bad. Again, I would definitely recommend reading this novel first in the series followed by The White Queen as that novel picks up where this one leaves off. 


The Red Queen ~ Philippa Gregory

Two royal houses, each thinking that they are the rightful heir to the throne can only mean one thing: War. The Red Queen is the second novel in the Cousins’ War series (the first being The White Queen) and it tells the story of Margaret Beaufort, heiress to the red rose of the House of Lancaster. Being only a girl, Margaret is of no use to her family, except to carry a royal son, so she is married off to Edmund Tudor, half-brother to the King and twice her age. She is sent off to live with her new husband in Wales – alone, widowed and afraid she is left to deal with a difficult labour which nearly kills her but delivers the House of Lancaster its long awaited heir, a son named Henry. Margaret is quickly married off to another kinsman, Henry Stafford, son of the Duke of Buckingham and is forced to leave her son behind with his uncle Jasper in Wales. Margaret is determined to take her destiny into her own hands and to place her son on the throne of England, as it is God’s will. Throughout the ever changing political times, Margaret feigns alliance to the Yorkist Kings (Edward IV and Richard III) and plots to have her son crowned King of England and has him betrothed to the Princess Elizabeth, daughter of the House of York in a plot to united England. 


I love Philippa Gregory’s novels. While this was not one of her best novels, I have to say that it still kept my interest and I still ended up really enjoying the story, despite my dislike of Margaret Beaufort. I get the impression that she wasn’t well liked in life either. I have to say that even though I was not a fan of Margaret in her younger years – common now, a young girl who is convinced that she was the English Joan of Arc based on a few tales she heard from travelling soldiers and actually hoping to hear voices from God as Joan (supposedly) did, but I grew to like her in her adult years. The pious, meek young girl grew into malicious, callous woman with a wicked tongue – some of the best lines in the book came from this woman. I also really enjoyed Margaret’s third husband Sir Thomas Stanley – he was just as shrewd and cynical as Margaret was – and it was his character that really propelled the novel in the latter chapters. I found it very improbable that Margaret and the other characters would repeatedly exchange letters filled with details about their treasonous thoughts, schemes and beliefs as they do in the novel – they might as well have simply asked for their heads to be removed from the rest of their bodies.  

Once again Gregory was able to bring to life another set of historical figures in a way that not many others can. The writing style, the details, the characters, the gripping battle scenes . . . Even though this is part of a series, it could just as easily stand on its own. Gregory once again weaves her magic around the existing historical facts and creates yet another fantastic work of fiction. Overall I found this to be a very enjoyable read about the woman who bound the Houses of Lancaster and York together and who founded the Tudor dynasty. I would recommend this novel to Gregory fans as well as any lover of historical fiction. 

Madame Tussaud ~ Michelle Moran

Marie Grosholtz is a smart, ambitious young wax sculptor who will one day become the famous Madame Tussaud. Mademoiselle Grosholtz works alongside her uncle in their celebrated wax museum, the Salon de Cire, which houses her popular model of the American ambassador Thomas Jefferson, a tableau of the royal family at dinner and a model of Madame du Barry amongst others – Marie’s museum provides Parisians with the very latest news on fashion, gossip and politics. Upon a visit from the royal family, the King’s sister requests Marie’s presence at Versailles as a royal tutor in wax sculpting – an offer that Marie knows that she cannot refuse. Set in a time of unrest and revolution and through the Reign of Terror, Moran brings to life the reality of revolution and the woman who through her talents, saved her own life and preserved the faces of a vanished kingdom.


I am a huge fan of Michelle Moran’s work. I fell in love with her writing style and storytelling with “Nefertiti” and again with “The Heretic Queen”. When I found out that she was leaving the ancient world and moving to not-so ancient history I went through a small panic – would this book be as good as the others? Will she be able to write about a different time and place with such ease? The answer to both questions was thankfully a resounding “yes!” I have a soft spot for anything about the French Revolution – I love that period in France and the craziness that surrounds it. Moran is able to carefully tread the bloody path from revolution to Reign of Terror without losing the reader and explaining the rapidly changing and complicated politics. Moran also brings to life the Salon de Cire and the wax figures and people who called it home. Once again, Moran excels at writing – adding details about the setting, the fashions, the atmosphere, etc., without it taking away from the story at hand.

One of the few complaints that I have about this novel was the portrayal of Marie – she is portrayed as being cold, unemotional and concerned only about her career and making money. Although there is someone who is deeply in love with her and who wants to marry her, Marie wants nothing of it and uses her career and her shop as an excuse – even when times are desperate she still chooses her shop over love. Although I commend her for sticking with her career and not giving in to the traditions of her time, I still find this hard to believe to be exactly what happened given the time period. I also feel like the ending was rushed – the novel itself covered a span of five years throughout the revolution and Reign of Terror, but the latter years of Marie’s life were crammed into a few pages. This leads me to my final problem with this novel: the title. I think that it was a bit misleading naming the novel Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution considering the title character did not become Madame Tussaud until the end of the story. I don't think that the book needed the pull of the name "Madame Tussaud", I believe that it would have done just as well with a different name. While I loved reading about her life during the revolution, I would have also liked to have read about her life in London . . . a potential sequel maybe? Overall it was a fantastic book about the French Revolution and I would definitely recommend it! 


At the Mercy of the Queen ~ Anne Clinard Barnhill

At the Mercy of the Queen tells the time-old tale of Anne Boleyn however the story is told through the eyes of young Madge Shelton, cousin to the Queen. Madge arrives at court at the tender age of 15 to serve as her cousin Queen Anne’s lady-in-waiting. Madge quickly becomes the confidante of the Queen and is privy to her innermost thoughts, feelings and secrets.

Anne is desperate to hold on to the love of her King and Madge is determined to help her does just that. Anne schemes to have Henry take her naive young cousin as mistress, guaranteeing her husband’s new paramour will owe her loyalty to the queen. Madge however has fallen in love with a handsome young courtier, Arthur Brandon, the illegitimate son of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Not only must Madge win over the king’s affections to help her cousin but she must also fend off the unwanted attention of Sir Henry Norris.


For a debut novel, this wasn’t half bad. I have to say that even though I love the Tudor era and all of the wives of Henry VIII, I have grown tired of the same stories over and over again – this however was a new and refreshing view of life at the court of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.  

The characters were well developed and there were solid historical facts, however the dialogue was a bit distracting at times – the transitions between modern English and old English were not smooth and the French . . . oh the French – you cannot mix old French with modern French and if you are going to write in French, please make sure that you are using the right genders and accords! (Maybe it’s because I’m a French teacher, but this is something that drives me crazy with these English authors trying to write in French, please do not rely on Google Translate and such).

I also have to say that I was disappointed in the ending. It was a little predictable and it kind of felt like the author got tired of writing and just really did not know how to end the story.