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A woman may be the power behind a man, but she is not allowed to take power for herself.

5.0 out of 5 stars This book is the story of two women, one an Empress and one who was Queen of England and begins in 1125. Matilda, married off at a young age is summoned home from Germany after the death of her husband the Emperor. Old king Henry may have plenty of bastards, but Matilda is his only legitimate heir and Henry wants her married well and to someone who can sire sons.  Much to Matilda’s displeasure, he picks the very young Geoffrey la Bel, Count  of Anjou, but duty and honor always come first and they do well enough with each other despite a very rocky start. The second woman in the book is Adeliza of Louvain, king Henry’s second wife, who is apparently unable to conceive the much-needed male heir. Matilda and Adeliza are close in age, and become good friends, but that relationship is sorely tried after the death of the old king when Stephen of Blois is conveniently poised and ready to steal Matilda’s crown.

The old king is dead and the rats are scurrying everywhere

The barons are most unwilling to let a woman rule them, but Matilda is not about to give up and she’s aided by half-brother Robert of Gloucester and Brian Fitzcount. Adeliza is now married to William d’Aubigny who is loyal King Stephen, and while she sympathizes with Matilda’s cause, her duty and honor to her husband comes first – and those conflicting loyalties and how it reflects the friendship between the two women are very much what this novel is about, along with the impact a long and bloody civil war has on the countryside and the people.

This is a complicated piece of history with many players, but I loved keeping the main focus on the relationship between Matilda and Adeliza and found it a very effective way of showing the reader a different side of Matilda, who had a reputation for being a bit of a termagant. Adeliza’s devotion to the church and her charities was also an excellent way to show the more human aspects of the conflict and the great toll it took on the country. I very much enjoyed watching Matilda’s relationship with her son and heir, especially after his *invasion* of England at fourteen.  As with all of her novels, Chadwick excels at bringing the medieval period to life – prepare to let yourself be sucked into another century for the weekend. Thumbs up on the author’s notes at the end where she tells us what is fact and what has been surmised. Lastly, a very big thumbs up for staying true to her character’s devotion to God, honor and duty and not succumbing to the temptation of throwing in an affair that never happened just to spice up one’s book. Five stars.

Many thanks to Little and Brown for my copy.