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.