The Queen's Pawn, Christy English
I was honored to receive this advanced copy to read and review and enjoyed the story that Ms. English presents. I am always happy to read anything that deals with Eleanor of Aquitaine and this touching novel did not disappoint. This is the story of a girl rarely mentioned in history, the Princess Alais of France.
Alais was betrothed to Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II's son Richard and sent to live in England until her marriage. Once in England she is taken under Eleanor's wing and the two form a close mother-daughter relationship. Eleanor really sees a lot of herself in young Alais. After meeting Richard she falls in love with him and looks forward to the day when they will finally be wed. However, her love quickly turns to hate when she discovers him in the arms of another woman and takes it personally. Despite Eleanor's advice that most men will stray, Alais feels that she has been nothing but a pawn and decides to take revenge on not only Richard but on Eleanor as well. Her goal? To be crowned Queen of England next to Henry.
This was a very interesting look into the life of a girl who, if she is mentioned in history at all, is usually only mentioned in a quick side note. There really wasn't too much going on in the story through the first half as the author introduces us to the major players and really sets the scene for the coming conflict. The action really seems to start in the second half and then the story moved fairly quickly. The detail in the descriptions of life during this time was fantastic. The author really gives the reader a look at something that is usually overlooked in most novels - a closer inspection of what life was like for royal females. I especially enjoyed the scenes in the Great Hall during meals; it was very easy for me to picture Eleanor lording it over her end of the table with Henry trying not to be outdone on the other end. Her attention to the details was really amazing and I appreciated the effort to make things come alive. You will not get bogged down in all this detail though, as can happen in some historical fiction when too much is thrown at you; what is on the page is what is needed in the story. The only thing that got a bit annoying to me was the constant repetition of certain phrases or ideas, which happens quite a bit in Eleanor's case as she is always saying, for example, "Alais is like me; she is very strong" in various ways. As for the characters of Eleanor, Henry, and Richard, they behave as you would expect with nothing "out of character" for them, though I thought the affection Richard showed Alais was very touching. Alais, however, turns out to be one of those characters who I initially liked but eventually came to despise, though I am not saying that her character is not well written. I have never been a huge fan of drastic changes in a character's personality. I was fine with her until she got it into her head to try to push Eleanor off her throne, though it did give me a chuckle to think that this young girl thought that she'd be able to best Eleanor of Aquitaine. I thought her hatred of Richard's seeming betrayal was a bit much and I found it hard to believe that she actually thought men were faithful (at this time) once they were betrothed or married. As usual, I loved how Eleanor always shows queenly poise and thought how she handles the entire situation was beautifully written. I liked the way the author ended the story as well; it was a very calm and peaceful scene.
Overall this was an enjoyable read. It was another fascinating look into the lives of the volatile early Plantagenets. I liked how the author focuses on a little known person from history and gives her a story of her own, really making her come to life. I would certainly recommend this to readers interested in reading about Eleanor of Aquitaine but are not ready to take on the much larger novels about her. I am looking forward to this author's next novel!