Devil's Brood, Sharon Kay Penman
This is the final novel in Penman's trilogy about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and is centered around the implosion of their marriage and the rebellions of their sons. While this book can stand alone I would recommend readers start with When Christ and His Saints Slept and then Time and Chance to get the full and amazing story. It is a long novel just like her others but it is well worth the read in my opinion. This last installment of this amazing story has everything you could want in a novel: love, hate, betrayal, greed. Let me just say that Penman is an extraordinary writer. I wish all writers could make characters come alive like she does. The political and personal turmoil of this family is as twisted and complicated as any modern government bill but Penman manages to write it in a way that is very easy to understand and fun to read. A big part of this is her ability to make these people that have been dead for hundreds of years come alive on the pages.
This story picks up where the last one left off. Henry has gone to Ireland after Becket's death supposedly to put down rebellions there (though it is most likely to avoid punishment from the Church). Henry and Eleanor's three oldest sons feel like they are of an age where they can handle more power, which their father refuses to give them. They end up in a rebellion against him, aided in part by their mother Eleanor and Louis, the French King. He quells the rebellion and eventually forgives his sons (not a great move on his part) but he can not forgive his wife and he imprisons her (and she stays that way for sixteen years). This should be the end of matters but Henry's sons behave like they don't have a brain in their heads. They scoff at their father's generosity and turn on him again and again. He forgives them again and again (again, not a great move on his part), blindly trusting them and finding all kinds of excuses for their behavior because he does love them. Two of his sons eventually pay the price of their treachery, though not at their father's hands, and one does become king upon Henry's death.
Eleanor certainly comes across differently in this novel than she did in the last one. Yes, she does spend most of this book imprisoned by her husband but (probably because of that) she really grows and matures throughout. She learns, as her arrogant sons never could, the error of her past actions (for the most part) and how they helped cause this rupture of their family. I still like her character here, even though I was mad at her for rebelling in the first place. You can really feel how helpless she feels when she hears of the trouble her sons are causing. The later scenes between her and Henry are quite touching as you can tell that these two very stubborn and prideful people, while not able to say it out loud to each other, realize the errors they've made.
I feel so sorry for Henry through this entire novel. Even though I do get irritated at his stubbornness and his complete blindness when it comes to his sons, I pity him for what happens again and again. It really broke my heart how he kept forgiving those arrogant boys, offered them wonderful things, trusted them, made excuses for them, and they kept turning around and stabbing him in the back. For a man as smart as he was it is amazing that he couldn't see what his sons were really like. He did bring some of it on himself; the crowning of Hal, while he was doing it to make sure what happened to his mother didn't happen to his son, was probably one of the biggest mistakes he ever made. He also was maddeningly stubborn at times but overall I felt like he was trying his hardest to make everything strong and secure for his son.
I did not like any of the sons. None of them. I felt like they were spoiled, arrogant, selfish, and incredibly ungrateful. I wanted to throttle all of them at many, many points throughout the novel. Yes, their father was a stubborn man but they couldn't see that 1, he was doing what he could to make their "empire" strong and stable so they wouldn't have to worry about much when they took the reins, and 2, they'd eventually have control of their lands when their father died. That was the trouble though - they wanted it all and they wanted it NOW. And not only do they stab their father in the back repeatedly, they turn on each other over and over again. They truly seemed as if they were the devil's brood.
Penman has created another wonderful masterpiece here. I would recommend this book, along with all her others, to those that love historical fiction and to those that haven't been bitten by that bug yet, to readers who are quite familiar with this period of history and to those that are not. This book and author are sure to open your eyes and you will probably end up being bitten by that wonderful historical fiction bug along the way.
**Note: William Marshal does play a roll in this story but if you are looking on more about him I would highly suggest Elizabeth Chadwick's The Greatest Knight.