Sharon Kay Penman is a leading historical fiction author! Her research is excellent and the way she weaves historical fact in with the fiction is beyond compare.
This book is about the struggle for the throne between King Stephen & his cousin Maude. Maude's grandfather was William the Conqueror. This generation is actually the 3rd monarchy since William consolidated the country under one rule. Time frame is the 1100's and this starts the Penman books, if you want to read them chronologically.
Penman has quickly become one of my favorite authors. One of the wonderful things about Penman is that she includes a 'note' at the end of each of her novels to explain where she has and has not taken liberties. It's always amazing to read how little she's had to make up! She twists the history into living, breathing characters that you feel you know.
Cousins Stephen and Maude vie for the right to rule in 12th century England with the ensuing 19 year civil war being a tragic, horrific, strife-filled time for its citizens. Orig published in 1995 it includes gritty imagery of battles and sieges and historical details of political strategy and double-crosses that are tempered with bits of romance. Definitely not a quick read at 700 plus pages and more than a dozen main players but well worth the time - Penman's prose breathes life into the medieval people and events she writes about.
Bruce - reviewed When Christ and His Saints Slept on
Helpful Score: 1
Another excellent novel by Penman, but a little long in the tooth. Like the common serf who actually endured it, I too wished for the civil war to be finally over. I guess Penman is not to blame for history, but perhaps she could have made some of the redundancy of the war easier on us modern readers.
What happens in the 12th century, when the heir to the throne of England dies in the sinking of the fabled White Ship in the English Channel, leaving the throne with no legitimate male heir?
Civil War ensues between Maude, the only legitimate heir to King Henry I and King Henry's nephew, Stephen, who steals the crown away from Maude. This is the true story of what seems an endless amount of battles and sieges throughout England between the Maude and Stephen factions fighting for the rightful crown of England. This book wasn't bad, but I didn't enjoy it as much as Penman's previous books. It just seemed like one battle after another, with no side seeming to gain the advantage. Hence the title, for this Civil War endured for roughly 15 years when the countryside and towns of England were ravaged by war, with no end in sight. Finally by the end, we see get into the marriage of Henry and Eleanor of Aquitaine, which I thought was the best part of the book.
This is a great book and it felt like the medieval times were tangible. I loved the details, although it was a bit difficult at parts to keep all the different characters seperated. Great story overall.
Penman draws a real sympathetic portrait of the complex Maud, who has to fight the nobility, her kinsman King Stephen, as well as her own husband and dark impulses that dismay her supporters. Her bent towards self-destruction clears the way for her son Henry II to claim the throne and start a rocky future of his own.
I understand that historical fiction sometimes need 'disposable' characters to blend the events and other characters together, but there are at least 3 story events based on contrived characters that string the story out and after the time invested, you almost expect to hear from them again in the story - you don't, so could the story have been told without them?
The story of Henry I's daughter Maud's struggle as a woman to be taken seriously as a ruler or the story of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine's passionate romance and ultimate rise to England's thrown. Perhaps the book encompasses too much? Breaking it into two parts: Maud's Story and Henry II's, makes it more manageable. You'll admire Maud's determination to come into her own independence and the political battles she must struggle concurrent to her own personal stuggle of how to 'act'. An early feminist, though she'd never have known it. Henry's story is one of coming of age and having that sense of knowing that made him a natural leader interlaced with passion.
Henry I, King of England dies in 1135, leaving behind a daughter, Maude (Matilda) having lost his oldest son in the tragic disaster of the White Ship. Henry intends for his daughter to reign after him; however the idea of a woman ruling on her own is a new concept to the people of 12th century England and not easily accepted. What follows Henry Is death has been described as anarchy, but that would probably seem like a mild description to the people of England who had to live through the decades of war and cruelty that this haphazard royal succession caused.
The people and places are drawn so well, you feel as if you are there. I did however get tired of the endless wars, intrigue and changing loyalties because I just couldnt picture Maude as the 12th centurys womans rights champion. By the end of the wars, I lost interest in who was winning and who was on what side because I no longer cared about most of the characters. To be fair, I kept comparing this book to Here Be Dragons and I wanted to return to Wales. I just enjoyed the characters in the Welsh trilogy more than this book; perhaps because the characters were more real to me or it was just a personal feeling. That doesnt diminish the excellent historical research or great writing that characterize this book.