A duchess endowed with second sight is caught up in the War of the Roses, in another installment of Gregory’s Cousins’ War series (The Red Queen, 2010).
The story opens as Jacquetta, a young princess of Luxembourg, befriends Joan of Arc. Jacquetta’s great aunt, the powerful Demoiselle, takes Joan into her household while the French and English decide the fate of the warrior maid. Near death, the Demoiselle informs Jacquetta that she is a true heiress to the powers conferred on certain women of her family by their ancestor, the water goddess Melusina. Teenage Jacquetta is noticed by the English regent of France, the Duke of Bedford, who demands her hand in marriage. Horrified at first (Bedford engineers the execution of Joan as a witch), Jacquetta soon learns that, rather than consummate their marriage, Bedford wants to employ her occult talents and her virginity in his quest for the Philosopher’s Stone. Bedford’s squire, Richard Woodville, worships the new Duchess from afar. After Bedford dies, Jacquetta risks her status as Dowager Duchess and heiress to a great fortune to marry Richard, her less-than-blue-blooded true love. The two attempt to retire to an English country house but are soon summoned to attend to Lancastrian King Henry VI and his volatile Queen, Margaret of Anjou. Richard is made a baron and given command of the English garrison at Calais. As two factions of English nobility, the Lancasters and Yorks, vie for control of the unstable realm, hard-won English territories in France are lost, further undermining Henry’s sway. Then Henry lapses into a catatonic state, during which Margaret needs Jacquetta’s help to keep the Yorks at bay. However, Jacquetta, who despite Richard’s frequent absences has birthed at least 11 children (readers will lose count), resists exploiting gifts that some may see as witchcraft.
Although the complexity of the historical and political events threatens to overwhelm Jacquetta’s story, the suspenseful pace never flags.