The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson: A compelling opener to a fascinating new series Queens of the Tower series - book review -

The Lady of the Ravens
The Lady of the Ravens

From the squalid streets of Tudor London, the forbidding walls of its most fearsome fortress, and the glamorous court of a kingdom in crisis, The Lady of the Ravens is filled with the small historical detail that makes the past come alive, blending fact and fiction with a sharp eye and a wealth of research

By Pam Norfolk

There’s an old legend that says if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and the kingdom with it.

And as England stands on the threshold of a new Tudor era in 1485, the newly installed Henry VII – beset by old rivalries and shadows from the past – will need a loyal subject to ensure that the ravens keep their place, and his throne secure.

Joanna Hickson, who spent twenty-five years presenting and producing news and arts programmes for the BBC, has turned her sights on 15th century English history and some of its fascinating principal characters in a string of exciting and richly detailed historical novels.

In The Lady of the Ravens, first book in a new Queens of the Tower series and a thrilling tale set at the court of the Lancastrian Henry Tudor and his wife Elizabeth of York, Hickson introduces us to the real-life Joan Vaux, lady-in-waiting to the queen, governess to the royal princesses, and wife of a prominent member of the Tudor court.

Vaux, who spent her early years in the service of Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, becomes the lynchpin for a story set in the turbulent and uncertain early years of Henry’s reign when rebels and imposters were only too willing to try to snatch his crown.

In the shadow of the imposing Tower of London and after years of civil war that has torn England apart, two young women with very different destinies are drawn together.

Elizabeth of York is just 19 years old but already her life is tainted by dishonour and tragedy, and as queen to the first Tudor king, she has the responsibility of bearing a son with ‘the blood of York and Lancaster flowing in his veins.’

Elizabeth will need much support and her young lady-in-waiting and confidant, Joan Vaux, is set to be privy to the deepest and darkest secrets of her queen. And as she watches Elizabeth start to suffer in her pregnancies, Joan becomes more and more convinced that marriage and motherhood are to be avoided at all costs.

But the king has other ideas and soon Joan must decide which of two men will be her husband… Sir Richard Guildford, the 33-year-old Master of Ordnance and Armouries at the Tower, or the vindictive Sir Henry Wyatt, Comptroller of the Mint and Master of the Jewel House.

Choosing marriage to Guildford sets her at odds with the menacing Wyatt, and living at the Tower engenders ‘a strange affinity’ with the charismatic ravens, ‘fellow misfits in a world where all other minds were fixed on an opposing course.’

And like the ravens, Joan must use her eyes and her senses, as conspiracy whispers through the dark corridors of the Tower…

Hickson takes us to the centre of Henry’s turbulent court where the constant battle to hold on to his precarious kingship becomes synonymous with the survival of the Tower’s wily ravens, loathed by those who see them as ‘the devil’s imps,’ and admired by those who recognise their natural intelligence and vital role in England’s prosperity.

Joan, ever resourceful and resilient, is witness to the early years of the royal couple’s marriage and the constant pressure on Elizabeth to be ‘the fertile heart of the Tudor Rose,’ whilst embarking on her own sometimes dangerous mission to protect the ravens.

From the squalid streets of Tudor London, the forbidding walls of its most fearsome fortress, and the glamorous court of a kingdom in crisis, The Lady of the Ravens is filled with the small historical detail that makes the past come alive, blending fact and fiction with a sharp eye and a wealth of research.

A compelling opener to a fascinating new series…

(HarperCollins, hardback, £14.99)