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.
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.
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.