It is England, just after the War of the Roses. The Lady of The Ravens by Joanna Hickson starts with the new Tudor King Henry VII on the throne and the country awaiting his marriage rumoured to be to Elizabeth of York, older sister of the Princes in the Tower. The marriage is intended to heal divisions between the two warring factions after Henry’s defeat of King Richard III at Bosworth Field, so allowing peace to settle on the land. But of course it is not that simple.
Twenty-four year old Joan Vaux is a servant to the princess and follows her to court on her marriage to the king. Watching the childbirth experiences of Queen Elizabeth, her own sister and other women of the court marry and bear children – some dying in the process – Joan develops a phobia of childbirth. But the king requires his courtiers to be married and a husband for Joan is proposed, but the situation is complicated as while she dithers a proposal is received from an unexpected source. Joan must make her choice, a decision which echoes throughout her life.
Joan has an affinity with the ravens, starting from when as a child she first saw the ravens at the Tower of London. Their presence there is said to herald a continued royal reign; their absence means trouble. And so the birds become a bellweather for the state of the nation in a politically turbulent time in Europe. Now living in luxurious married quarters at the Tower, the adult Joan admires these clever glossy black birds; but someone does not share her view. Their nest boxes are destroyed and set on fire. Her new husband refuses to give credence to her suspicions.
Meanwhile the country’s political future is vulnerable as the Yorkist threat to regain the throne from the usurper Henry has not disappeared. As heir, young Prince Arthur grows and his betrothal to the Spanish princess approaches but this is threatened as a Yorkist pretender to the throne gains support from England’s enemies. Joan is an observer at the highest level of the court, privy to secrets, defender of ravens, confidante of the queen.
Occasional modern phraseology – toddler, doggy treats – wrenched me out of the period and off the page but the character of Joan drew me straight back. A novel for lovers of Tudor historical mysteries this is the story of one woman, her family, choices, strengths and vulnerabilities in a country riven by war but where peace is fragile and the wrong choice can mean banishment, poverty or death.
After I finished reading it, I learned that The Lady of the Ravens is the first in the Queen of the Tower series. Good!
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