Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine thought they had it all – the greatest empire since Charlemagne, healthy children including the heir and several to spare – so how did it all go so wrong? The Devil’s Brood takes up the story where Time and Chance left off with the murder of Thomas Becket, as Henry returns from his self imposed exile to Ireland. Henry’s three eldest sons are chafing at the bit to have lands and power of their own and egged on by Louis of France they join with their mother Eleanor in rebellion against their father. In time Henry quells the rebellion and forgives his sons, but he cannot forgive his wife and queen and he imprisons her. Even though Henry forgave his sons, they are still not happy with his generosity and it eventually leads to more power struggles and back-biting amongst the brothers, particularly young Hal, who suffers the ultimate punishment for his reckless deeds.
This was a fascinating story of a brilliant, powerful king whose blind love and trust in his sons lead him to make mistakes in judgment that eventually lead to his downfall. I also loved seeing a different side of the haughty, queenly Eleanor we saw in Time and Chance, as unlike her sons she does come to recognize the wrongness (well sometimes) of her actions and the cataclysmic effects those actions had on her family. Some readers may find the first part of this book a bit slow paced as Penman does spend time setting up the back history of Henry, Eleanor and the Becket murder, but hang in there as about half way through when the boys start turning on each other the pages literally started flying. Penman’s dialogue was exceptional, although I couldn’t decide who got the best lines, Henry or Richard – they just smoked off the page!
One of Penman’s great strengths is to take the most complex political situations and put them into a story that not only entertains the reader but educates at the same time. Five stars and it appears from the author’s notes and a recent blog interview that this will not be a trilogy, she will continue the story of Eleanor, Richard and John in one more book. Hurray!
For those of you coming away from this book wanting to know about William Marshal, I highly recommend Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion. They are hard to find in the US, but readily available in the UK and Canada.