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The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

Gregory, author of such bestselling novels as The Other Boleyn Girl, chose the period of England’s Wars of the Roses as this novel’s setting and a historical character named Jacquetta as its narrator.

As The Lady of the Rivers opens, Jacquetta, a young girl from Luxembourg, meets Joan of Arc while visiting her uncle in France.  She and Joan, looking at tarot cards, discuss the card for the Wheel of Fortune, which means that one may rise very high or fall very low.  Later Jacquetta sees Joan burned at the stake.

As Jacquetta’s life unfolds, she marries twice, once in an arranged marriage and later for love, has a large family of children, and becomes the favorite lady-in-waiting to the English queen.  The unusual part of her story is her gift for foretelling the future, at a time when such a gift may either help her or lead to a death sentence for witchcraft.  Her first husband chooses to marry her because of this gift and also because he believes that his attempts at alchemy will have a better chance of success if he has an innocent girl as an assistant.

This is an action-packed period in English history, when the powerful houses of York and Lancaster fight for power, and Jacquetta’s role at court places her in the center of events.  The plot includes many turns of the wheel of fortune, as various characters rise or fall, until the end of the novel, which ends with Jacquetta’s words, “This is fortune’s wheel indeed – can it be?  Can such a thing be?”

I thought that the beginning of the novel was the least interesting part, perhaps because Joan of Arc’s fate is so well-known. So – if you aren’t immediately intrigued by the novel, keep reading!

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)


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