Monday, April 2, 2012

Two Reviews: LADY OF THE RIVERS by Philippa Gregory and

(These reviews first appeared in Historical Novels Review, November 2011)

THE LADY OF THE RIVERS. Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory’s third entry in her Cousins’ Wars series features an unusual character: Jacquetta Woodville, mother of Elizabeth, who in turn gave birth to the princes who disappeared mysteriously in the Tower. In THE LADY OF THE RIVERS, Ms Gregory travels further back in time, bringing us a glimpse of the seeds of the epic conflict that will be known as the War of the Roses. French-born Jacquetta first weds an older duke more interested in her supernatural gifts than her physical ones; upon his death, she defies convention to find love with his squire, whose loyalty to the crown brings them heavy responsibilities. Through Jacquetta’s eyes, we’re given a wide-angle view of the lethal intrigues that plague the English court, where a young, weakling king is manipulated by his nobles, and accusations of witchcraft are wielded to destroy opponents. The end of the Hundred Years’ War, when England lost its territories in France, offers a compelling backdrop to Jacquetta’s personal trials as she endures repeated separations from her husband and witnesses the depredations of power-hungry courtiers. When her fortunes increase with the arrival of Margaret of Anjou, a princess brought to wed the king, the novel becomes more intimate, as well. Margaret is a compelling character who steals the show— not yet the Lancastrian virago of legend, Gregory depicts her as a brash, beautiful girl tethered to a man better suited to prayer than bed play; Margaret’s vulnerability and fallible relationship with Jacquetta bring humanity to the crowded historical events. Jacquetta’s magical gifts are underplayed except for one crucial episode; and her astounding fertility and perennial passion for her husband, as well as her keen insight, center her as a voice of reason in a complex, treacherous era.


From the storage of game without modern refrigeration to the extraordinary size of the staff required to cater a banquet, Peter Brears’ All The King’s Cooks offers a fascinating, detailed account of how the massive kitchens built at Hampton Court were operated. This deceptively slim book goes beyond a mere accounting of pots and pans. Interspersing recipes from the era with commentary on social mores and table etiquette, along with a thorough examination of how the system contended with the daily demands placed on it, Mr. Brears has created an intelligent yet accessible look into a rarely explored part of the Tudor world. The kitchens at Hampton Court are marvelous to visit; the book fleshes out the displays for tourists with the grease and grit of the machinery that propelled these kitchens to become one of the most efficient in the realm. Numerous illustrations help visualize a part of the palace that remained hidden from most courtiers’ eyes. Mr. Brears has himself re-enacted cooking at Hampton Court and his hands-on knowledge makes his book a must-have for Tudor aficionados.


IMAGINE said...

All The King's Cooks is on my reading list. Keep on writing

judith said...

CW - All the King's Cooks sounds really interesting and I probably would not have found this book on my own. On another note, I have been subscribing to your blog feed and happily reading your great entries. As you know, they are listed in a very plain straight forward way. What a revelation when I decided to go to your main blog page (not the feed). It is so beautiful! I hope the rest of your readers check it out and also your main web page. Tres wonderful.

C.W. Gortner said...

Thank you so much! I really appreciate it and I'm delighted you find my blog entries useful :)