Joanna Hickson’s new novel is a sequel to 2020’s The Lady of the Ravens and continues the story of Joan Vaux, lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth of York, wife of Henry VII. The ravens that formed such an important part of the first book appear less often here, but Joan still has a strong affinity for them and still believes firmly in the legend that should the ravens ever abandon the Tower of London, the kingdom will fall.
Joan’s position at court means that she witnesses – and is sometimes personally involved in – some of the key events of this period of history. The novel begins in 1502 with the death of Prince Arthur shortly after his marriage to Katharine of Aragon and it is up to Joan to try to comfort his grieving mother, Queen Elizabeth. When Elizabeth herself dies just a year later, Joan’s place at the Tudor court becomes more insecure, particularly when her husband Sir Richard Guildford is imprisoned on suspicion of treason. Eventually, with a new king on the throne – the young Henry VIII – Joan and her family begin to rise to royal favour again, but there’s more drama ahead both for Joan and for the Tudors.
I enjoyed The Lady of the Ravens, but I think this is the stronger of the two books. Although Joan was a real person, she’s one that I knew absolutely nothing about before reading these two novels and I found it fascinating to read about familiar events and people from a completely new perspective. I was particularly interested in the sections where Joan accompanies the two Tudor princesses – Margaret and Mary – to their respective marriages with the King of Scotland and King of France. The fact that Joan is chosen to carry out these important duties is proof of her high standing with the royal family and yet, at various times throughout the novel, we see how quickly this can change and how the King and Queen hold the fates of everyone around them in their hands.
As well as retelling the story of the end of Henry VII’s reign and the beginning of Henry VIII’s, the novel also explores Joan’s personal life: her marriage to Sir Richard Guildford and how she copes during the period of his imprisonment; her often difficult relationship with her son, Hal, who has been raised as a companion to Henry VIII; and her feelings for Anthony Poyntz, a much younger man who had once been like a son to her but is now becoming something more. As Joan is not a well-known historical figure, I had no idea how her story would play out, so was able to enjoy watching it unfold without knowing what was going to happen next.
I think this is my favourite of Joanna Hickson’s books (I’ve read them all apart from one, The Tudor Bride, the second of her two novels about Catherine of Valois). I’ll be interested to see which historical woman she chooses to write about next.
Thanks to HarperCollins for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.
This is book 7/50 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022.