Eleanor, the very beautiful and wealthy heiress to the Duchy of Aquitaine, was first married to King Louis of France – although he preferred prayer to the marital bed. Eleanor is the one who gets the blame for not providing the necessary male heir and Louis is encouraged to dump her for a new model. She catches the eye of the much younger Henry Fitz-Empress (the future Henry II of England) who desires both the woman and her Duchy and once Louis sets her free they marry without Louis’ permission. Thus starts off the tale of one of history’s most memorable and dynastic marriages, the magnificent empire they carved out together and their devil’s brood of children.
Of course there’s more to it than that but I think most of you know the basics so I’m not rehashing it all over again. If you want to know more you can read up on up Eleanor at Wik or better yet read Sharon Penman’s fabulous trilogy: When Christ and His Saints Slept, Time and Chance and The Devil’s Brood. Now comes Alison Weir with her own take on this infamous Queen and unfortunately she’s decided to take every unsubstantiated rumor and bit of gossip about Eleanor and her alleged love-life and work it into her story. Even worse than that, Weir also throws in the Matilda-had-an-affair-with-King-Stephen-and-Henry-is-not-really-Geoffrey’s-son-after-all rumor.
In Weir’s version, Eleanor had previously had an affair with Henry’s father Geoffrey (as well as Marcabru the troubadour who initiated her into the rites of true passion), although when he comes to swear fealty to Louis it’s his son Henry who catches Eleanor’s eye and sets her sexual appetites a-fire. Lol, they’re planning to do the nasty within less than an hour of their first meeting – let alone how he’s able to get into the chambers of the Queen of France three nights running with no one noticing. Where were those servants anyway? As for the hot sex they have? No chemistry here – it’s all depicted very clinically in waaaaaaay too much detail and this is where we go back to Penman’s trilogy. Much less sex (well actually a whole lot less sex) yet Penman’s Henry and Eleanor literally smoked off the pages. The story continues on the usual historical path of this turbulent pair – Thomas Becket, Rosamund Clifford, the rebellious sons and Eleanor’s long imprisonment, etc. etc. etc.
Instead of the formidable strong-willed woman that we’ve admired in Penman’s books we’re instead treated to a woman with not much else on her mind but sex, sex and more sex. Where Henry should be feared and admired for carving such an incredible empire and holding it, he’s more of a buffoon, getting drunk every night with his belching English barons and swiving any woman available. When not doing that he’s losing his infamous temper again, falling on the ground and chewing straw. Nor did I need to be constantly clubbed over the head to remind me that Henry is descended from the devil.
There are always two camps when it comes to historical accuracy in novels. Some readers don’t care if the history is spot-on or not, they just want to be entertained. The other camp wants the history as accurate as possible with author notes in the end to let them know in the end what had to be changed, surmised, etc. Well guess what, you won’t get accuracy or entertainment in this one. Even taking the historical accuracy off the table (see the author wiggle her way around that in her notes) there is still the issue of the writing. I cannot believe the same person who wrote Innocent Traitor wrote this book, the writing is amateurish and better suits a badly written wall-paper romance as opposed to a serious historical novel.
While the sex does taper off in the latter half of the novel, unfortunately so does the pacing. The entire Becket saga was dry as dirt (Sharon, you know I love you but I even struggled with your version), and as for Eleanor’s captivity? Since it’s from her POV, there’s much too much telling instead of showing as *someone* has to come and relate to her what’s been happening in the outside world. In the end, this is a tedious book filled with dire prose, insipid dialog and a serious waste of a tree. After reading Miss Moppet’s review I had decided to pass on this, library or no, but unfortunately I’d forgotten I’d entered the Librarything ER giveaway and was stuck with it after all. Not recommended or library only if you must, then buy it if you love it.