Welcome to the nbmagazine.co.uk stop on the blog tour for The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson!

Here’s a little info about the book:

Elizabeth of York, her life already tainted by dishonour and tragedy, now queen to the first Tudor king, Henry VII.

Joan Vaux, servant of the court, straining against marriage and motherhood and privy to the deepest and darkest secrets of her queen. Like the ravens, Joan must use her eyes and her senses, as conspiracy whispers through the dark corridors of the Tower.

Through Joan’s eyes, The Lady of the Ravens inhabits the squalid streets of Tudor London, the imposing walls of its most fearsome fortress and the glamorous court of a kingdom in crisis.

And about author Joanne Hickson:

Joanna Hickson was born in England but spent her early childhood in Australia, returning at thirteen to explore her first castle and develop a fascination with medieval history. She also discovered a love of words in all their guises, took a degree in Politics and English and a career in journalism, spending twenty five years in the BBC producing and presenting News and Arts programmes for TV and Radio. Joanna is now writing fiction set in the period she fell in love with as a child, indulging her passion for bringing the past to life. She is married, lives in an old farmhouse near Bath and has a large extended family living on both sides of the world. She welcomes contact on Facebook (Joanna Hickson) and Twitter (@joannahickson) but warns that she spends a lot of time in the fifteenth century!

And here’s Paul Burke’s review of The Lady of the Ravens:

This is an enjoyable and engaging historical novel. Hickson’s re-imagining of the late fifteenth/early sixteenth century Tudor court really brings it to life for the reader. Lady of the Ravens feels like a credible portrait of the people and the times, from the politics and court intrigue to the daily grind and domestic detail. This is a absorbing drama but there are modern sensibilities at play here, particularly in the examination of the role of women in the Tudor world. The spirit of independence and intelligence that Joan, the narrator, embodies is tempered, but not subdued, by the need to fit in at court, she is a young woman soon to rise in rank through an arranged marriage. Her growth as a person is the beating heart of the story.

Lady of the Ravens opens with the accession of King Henry VII to the throne. The first chapters fill in the background so well that we begin to understand the machinations of the court and the intricacies of securing a divided kingdom. One of the most powerful means of bringing the Yorkists and Lancastrians together is marriage. That is why King Henry has chosen Elizabeth of York to be his bride. Marriages are already being arranged throughout the ranks of the nobility. As the novel progresses we see Henry’s turbulent reign, challengers, assassins and pretenders, through the eyes of Joan.

The role of a lady in waiting to the queen is more political than it might first appear, as a trusted ally Joan is a kind of consiglieri to Elizabeth. When she becomes queen, Elizabeth is only nineteen, she has to contend with her mother and the formidable presence of the king’s mother, the queen mother, Margaret. Joan has been brought up by Margaret, her mother forced to flee during the War of the Roses. Joan now has to transfer her loyalty from her guardian to the queen. We see these women exercise power, they are intelligent, guileful and ambitious. Loyalty is the most prized commodity in a divided world yet to be healed. Lady of the Ravens is not just a novel of the court though, nor just of the rich and powerful, we get a picture of life in the countryside as well as the capital.

Joan is fearful of childbirth and a loveless marriage but she is also aware that her own marriage isn’t something she can decide. When the time comes she is unhappy at being cornered into a union with a man who appears to be the lesser of two evils. However, Joan is a practical person too, from the disappointing first night ritual/fumble to giving birth, and learning to be the lady of the house and, yet, still a lady in waiting to the queen, Joan begins to master her own destiny. A loyal friendship with the queen and a bond with her husband develops.

The novel opens as Joan arrives at the Tower of London. She is struck by the presence of the ravens. Legend has it that the kingdom will fall if the ravens ever desert the Tower and yet the soldiers despise the birds. When Joan meets the Master of Ordnance, Sir Richard Guildford, her first thought is to berate the man for the behaviour of the archers who are using the birds for practice. Joan has been sent to the Tower by Margaret. Joan is the name she goes by but her name is actually Giovanna, daughter of Lady Katherine Vaux, her mother now back in favour after the tempestuous War of the Roses. Hickson manages to lay out the complex political divide of the time very well (the reign of Edward IV, Edward V – the princes in the Tower, Richard III and Henry VII). Joan has been called to St John’s Chapel to witness the making of the king’s bed, including how to search for hidden weapons and poisons. It’s a skill she will need when her mistress, Elizabeth (King Edward IV’s daughter, sister of Edward V), becomes the queen for her bed chamber. The marriage will unite the houses of Lancaster and York but there is still a lot of bad blood. As the nobles vie for position, Elizabeth’s role is precarious until she can get the ring on her finger.

Margaret is busy working on drawing up a list of Elizabeth’s ladies in waiting, there are political implications in the choices. Joan doesn’t have the rank to be a lady in waiting to the queen yet but Margaret asks her advice on the queen’s sister, Cecily. Elizabeth is nervous, until the marriage happens she cannot take anything for granted. Joan is privy to a visit by the king to Elizabeth before the wedding, they now share a secret, Elizabeth is pregnant. The first joint issue will unite the kingdom. An attempt on King Henry’s life on his progress to the north leads Joan’s second meeting with Richard Guildford, it is little short of an interrogation. He is one of two men who offer her marriage, her choice will also make an enemy of the suitor she rejects. This is Joan’s story and that of the royal court over the next ten years, the birth of an heir to the throne, the pretender Edward of Warwick claiming to be the rightful king, the armies of Perkin Warbeck and the arrival of Katherine of Aragon.

Hickson understands the volatility and precariousness of the age. Joan is a wonderful character, spirited, intelligent – a strong voice. This is such an interesting book, not a romance or a crime thriller, but a drama with real intrigue and tension.

Paul Burke

The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson
HarperCollins 9780008305581 hbk Jan 2020