Book Review: The Lady Of The Rivers by Philippa Gregory

Most tales in history tell the stories of men, who ride to wars for gospel, glory and gold, or scheme and plot against their political rivals. Little is said of the women who lived in these times, except as ‘commodities’ – pawns to be married off to cement alliances, bring wealth into a family, or treated as baby-making machines. But historians and storytellers often forget that women are individuals of their own, with hopes, dreams, wants and desires beyond what has been laid out for them by men and people in positions of power. And even in misogynistic societies that try to control and suppress women even as they fear them, there are brave women who dare forge paths for themselves, grasping their fate in their hands to change their own fortunes.

It is for this reason that I enjoy reading Philippa Gregory‘s novels and her rich descriptions of events and life in medieval Britain. Gregory’s characters are colourful, passionate, and while we can only speculate to the person’s nature based on what happened in history, her highly romanticised and embellished accounts breathe life into them. In any case, I think it’s a great way to introduce lay readers to these extraordinary people, often female, who are otherwise forgotten as mere footnotes in history.

While most of us would know prominent figures such as Anne Boleyn or Margaret Tudor, (thanks to popular portrayal in modern media), there isn’t much about Jacquetta St Pol, despite her being a lady of importance in the court of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou during the Wars of the Roses.

Gregory’s Lady of the Rivers shines some light into this often overlooked figure.

Synopsis

Young Jacquetta is a lady of a noble Luxembourg household, whose family claims ancestry from the water goddess Melusina. She befriends Joan of Arc, held prisoner by her uncle, and who was later burned as a witch by English troops. This early encounter teaches Jacquetta the fate that awaits a woman who tries to overstep her role in a world of men. Even so, Jacquetta is gifted by the Sight, and is determined to make her own way in the world.

Three years later, Jacquetta marries John, the Duke of Bedford, who seeks to use her otherworldly ‘gifts’ to discover the secrets of alchemy. After his death, Jacquetta is left a wealthy widow. She falls in love with her husband’s squire, Richard Woodville – an honourable man, but poor. They get married in secret, much to the displeasure of the King, and are exiled from court after paying a heavy fine. Jacquetta gives birth to their first child, Elizabeth Woodville. Little do they know the future in store for her.

The couple is eventually forgiven and allowed back to court, where they rise in favour with the ruling house of Lancaster. Jacquetta and Richard Woodville are allies to Henry VI and his French bride Margaret of Anjou, Jacquetta’s kinswoman, but the royal couple become increasingly unpopular. No thanks to favouritism and the lavish of titles and land to select nobles, rivalry between the houses of Lancaster and York come to a head. Margaret of Anjou falls pregnant with the heir to the throne, although it is heavily implied that the baby was fathered by the court favourite Duke of Somerset. To make things worse, the king falls into a coma, and civil war breaks out. Jacquetta, her husband and their allies are now forced to navigate a dangerous minefield as the country descends into chaos.

Verdict 

The Lady of the Rivers is signature Gregory, woven around a central female character full of fiery passion and a refusal to go quietly into the night. Gregory’s protagonists are never shrinking violets, but actively working behind the scenes to secure their future and ensure the survival of their families and loved ones. As a character, Jacquetta seems to crave a quiet life surrounded by her husband and her children, but cannot resist a higher calling and is torn between her sense of loyalty for her household and doing what is right for the country. Jacquetta’s foresight does not give her much relief, as even though it is told as if she has the power to foresee certain events or what may come to pass, she is often powerless in doing anything to stop or change what is to come.

As usual, actual events in history are used as the basis for much of the novel, and it was a good entry point for me to find out more about the Plantagenets, the 300-year dynasty that came before the Tudors. Truth is stranger than fiction, and these historical accounts are juicier than Game of Thrones : there’s murder, treason, adultery, betrayal, war and savagery, kinsmen turning on kinsmen.

Gregory’s works often feel rushed at the ending, and this was no exception, ending almost abruptly – but all in all, The Lady of the Rivers was a solid read. I’d recommend picking one up if you’re interested to expand your knowledge on British medieval history (as well as her other works), although they shouldn’t be used as factual basis.

Score: 7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review – The Lost World by Michael Crichton

Recently I reorganised my bookshelf (it took five hours wtf) and set aside some stuff I knew I wouldn’t be reading to be donated. These are mostly books I got from events, like How to Plan A Wedding, Tropical Spa Scrubs, etc. But when it came down to really giving away my fiction/non-fiction collection, I found myself reluctant. There are still many that I bought years ago but haven’t read, as well as old titles that I’d like to read again. I ended up picking up The Lost World by Michael Crichton  after seeing it at the bottom of a box. It’s still as good as ever.

To those who have never heard of Crichton, he was a genius at medical/science fiction. His best known work is perhaps Jurassic Park, which was turned into a critically acclaimed movie. This second novel, a sequel of sorts, was apparently written after fans and Steven Spielberg pressured Crichton into it, and it remains his only sequel (the rest of his novels are all stand alone). It kind of shows that his heart was not really in it, as it lacks the freshness and originality of the first novel, but it’s still a good read nonetheless, and an action-packed walk down memory lane for fans.

big-lostworld

Synopsis 

Six years after the disaster at Jurassic Park, rumours emerge of strange animal corpses washing up on the shores of Costa Rica. This attracts the attention of OCD rich boy narcissist and palaeontologist, Richard Levine. He convinces chaos theorist and mathematician Ian Malcolm, who survived the events of the last novel, to search for a ‘lost world’ of dinosaurs. They eventually learn of Site B on Isla Sorna, where the now-bankrupt InGen produced and raised dinos for their Jurassic Theme Park on Isla Nublar, where the events of the original novel took place.

Afraid that the Costa Rica government would destroy the dinosaurs, Levine hastily goes on an expedition to the island with a local guide, but goes missing. Malcolm goes to save him with a ‘rescue team’, consisting of retired engineer and university professor Jack Thorne and his assistant Eddie Carr, as well as two stowaway children Arby and Kelly, who were working as Levine’s research assistants for a school project. They also call animal behaviourist Sarah Harding, Malcolm’s former lover, but she was unable to catch the flight.

Hot on their heels is ruthless geneticist Lewis Dodgson and his group, from a rival corporation called Biosyn. Dodgson plans to steal eggs from Isla Sorna, but they bump into Harding while attempting to leave for the island. Initially friendly, Dodgson pushes her off the boat as they approach the island during a storm, but she survives.

Meanwhile, Malcolm and co have located Levine and they make observations on dino behaviour from a high hide. They also find Harding. They soon learn that Dodgson’s group arrived on the island and watch in horror as the group is attacked after attempting to steal Tyrannosaurus eggs. In the process, Dodgson injures a baby T-Rex. The soft hearted Eddie brings it back to base, where Malcolm and Harding grudgingly try to save its broken leg. Things quickly go downhill from there. T-rex parents are mighty mad and attack the trailer in search of their infant, velociraptors attack the high hide, and the group huddles in the old worker’s facility while awaiting rescue via helicopter.

Is there hope for escape?

Verdict 

The Lost World is a clear rehash of the first novel, down to the two young kids in the group (just like Lex and Tim), Ian Malcolm’s snarky commentary, and the narrative which starts off orderly before everything descends into chaos. In a sense, the storyline is rather predictable.

But that doesn’t mean the book isn’t worth a read! You have to give it to Crichton for his mastery in blending abstract, often complex subjects with real-life, everyday situations – which was what made Jurassic Park so appealing in the first place. The pace is action packed, with just enough to keep readers anticipating what comes next. While it definitely won’t live up to the brilliance of the first, I’d say that if Jurassic Park is a high-end steak at a fine dining resto, then The Lost World is a good ol’ fashioned one from your favourite local joint. Still satisfying.

*Just a note, the movie version is nothing like the book version. There isn’t a scene where the T-rex terrorizes the town.

Score: 7.5/10