Ravens are special creatures, birds that have had significance through the centuries as a result of their appearance and apparent intelligence. Joan Vaux was a young woman who found herself in a particularity fragile royal court, and who becomes deeply interested in the ravens who live in the Tower of London. The court is that of Henry VII, who has just won the crown of England on the battleground from Richard III. Joan is a lady in the household of Elizabeth, the oldest surviving sister of the Princes in the Tower, and it seems that Elizabeth will marry the new Lancastrian king. There is hope that the two houses of York and Lancaster will finally be joined together, and the Wars of the Roses which caused so much death and suffering will be at an end.
Joan’s story is the fictional version of the woman’s view of what happened to the men, women and children who found themselves struggling to become accustomed to a new reign, and new peace. This vivid novel tells the story from a human point of view, the fear of fighting, the reality of love, birth and death in the richest households in the land. I found it an immersive read that really drew me in, a positive account which really brought a time of challenge to life. I was so pleased to get the opportunity to read and review this brilliant historical novel where a determined woman really made a difference.
This story opens with the Joan being ordered to learn how to prepare and check a royal bed. As she enters the Tower grounds she not only spots some of the ravens but also sees how they are treated by some of the soldiers who are unnerved by the birds. When she confronts Sir Richard Guildford, the King’s Master of Ordnance, about the treatment of the birds, it is not a happy conversation, but will have implications for the rest of the book. As Joan returns to the household of the young woman who is unsure whether she will indeed be queen, she must think back to her preparation for her trusted role. Having spent time in wealthy households and seized every opportunity to obtain a good education, she combines her keen insights with a practical knowledge of basic medical skills. Her secret is that she does not want to get married, even in order to gain a more significant place in the royal household, mainly because she is terrified of childbirth. There is every reason to be in a world where basic medical knowledge took second place to superstition, and women did not always survive for reasons of basic hygiene.
As we follow Joan’s progress as she comes to terms with change and challenges with the progress of Henry’s reign and Elizabeth’s life. Joan discovers the reality of family, of love, and fear. She becomes more assured in her role at court, using her quick wit and determination to overcome danger to those nearest to her. Even her ongoing determination to maintain the number of ravens in the Tower so that the legend of keeping the kingdom is respected is not always easy. This is a mature and well written book that truly drew me into the narrative. I recommend it as a strong read for all fans of female led historical fiction, especially in the less well known periods of history.