This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,-- This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. ~~William Shakespeare, Richard III

Friday, April 30, 2010

This Day in History...

April 30, 1483 - Richard, Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Buckingham meet Edward V and his party on their way to London from Ludlow. Richard arrested Anthony Woodville, Richard Grey, and Thomas Vaughan on suspicion of treason.

April 30, 1533 - Thomas Cranmer became Archbishop of Canterbury.

April 30, 1536 - Mark Smeaton is arrested and sent to the Tower of London for allegedly having an affair with Queen Anne Boleyn. These trumped up charges were another of Cromwell's tactics for getting rid of the queen Henry VIII no longer wanted.

April 30, 1775 - Parliament passed an act forbidding the American colonies to trade with anyone other than Britain.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

This Day in History...

April 29, 1429 - Joan of Arc arrived at the besieged city of Orleans. A week later she lead her French forces to victory over the English.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Alphabet in Historical Fiction Challenge: J

Cutting it close again! I just can't remember stuff anymore...must be old age!

Each fortnight the ladies at Historical Tapestry will post a new letter of the alphabet and you do a blog post about a work of historical fiction that has that letter:
  • as the first letter in the title
  • as the first letter of the author's first or last name
  • the first letter of a character's first or last name
  • the first letter of a place where an historical event took place
So here is my post for the fourth letter of this challenge: J

The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey

From the back cover: Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, recuperating from a broken leg, becomes fascinated with a contemporary portrait of Richard III that bears no resemblance to the Wicked Uncle of history. Could such a sensitive, noble face actually belong to one of the world's most heinous villains - a venomous hunchback who may have killed his brother's children to make his crown secure? Or could Richard have been the victim, turned into a monster by the usurpers of England's throne? Grant determines to find out once and for all, with the help of the British Museum and an American scholar, what kind of man Richard Plantagenet really was and who killed the Little Princes in the Tower.

Being a fan of Richard III I was eager to get my hands on this book and once I did, I could not put it down. I loved it. The main character is a detective, immobilized in the hospital, and after seeing a picture of Richard III, decides he's going to try to figure out the truth in this centuries old mystery. He just can't believe that the face he sees in that portrait could be capable of murdering family members. With the help of a scholar he pours over documents, letters, etc, anything from Richard's time that would help clear up the case. I liked the methodical way that Inspector Grant went over all the evidence he could lay his hands on with a policeman's mind, looking at it without the pro or anti Richard bias found with so many scholars and historians. Of course the novel is only set within a short amount of time and it is a bit unlikely that someone could solve this mystery in such a small amount of time when historians have been pouring over it for centuries. That doesn't take away from the points that Tey offers on the subject and they should get some readers thinking. The fact that Tey wrote this novel in the 1950s, before the surge of pro-Richard societies dedicated to rehabilitating his reputation, is intriguing to me. The common opinion on Richard at that time is like what she portrays in the novel: it was accepted history that Richard was an evil hunchback who murdered his brother's sons. What made her branch out and write a novel in which she tries to prove that the long accepted idea of Richard's reputation was false?

While certainly a work of fiction (and the author most likely would have left out some facts that didn't fit into the story she was trying to tell) it brings up some very interesting questions concerning Richard III and the disappearance of his nephews. Probably the main point that she conveys is that history is always written by the victors so whether Richard killed the boys or not, the new regime would want him to be as slandered as possible to make their position more secure. This is a thoroughly enjoyable book, a quick and easy read, and a must for anyone with pro-Richardian sympathies.

You can read my full review here.

Book Review: The Winter King

The Winter King, Bernard Cornwell
5 roses

The tale begins in Dark Age Britain, a land where Arthur has been banished and Merlin has disappeared, where a child-king sits unprotected on the throne, where religion vies with magic for the souls of the people. It is to this desperate land that Arthur returns, a man at once utterly human and truly heroic: a man of honor, loyalty, and amazing valor; a man who loves Guinevere more passionately than he should; a man whose life is at once tragic and triumphant.

As Arthur fights to keep a flicker of civilization alive in a barbaric world, Bernard Cornwell makes a familiar tale into a legend all over again.

This was the first of Cornwell's books that I ever read and it was positively remarkable. Instead of the usual Arthurian story that is full of Merlin and magic, knights in shining armor, and Camelot, we have a a story that breathes life into a possible historical basis for the legend behind Arthur. If you are looking for a true fantasy or romance, this is not the Arthur book for you.

The story is told through the eyes of Derfel, a Saxon child raised by the Britons and a ward in Merlin's household. He works his way up through the ranks to become a great solider and one of Arthur's close friends. Through his eyes we see an Arthur that really "could have been." He is not a king but a powerful lord. He is a great man and respected but just a man with his own faults and weaknesses; Merlin is not beside him helping out with lots of magical spells. We see a gritty, harsh, dirty 5th Century England full of superstition, violence, and bloodshed, only a generation or so removed from the Roman occupation. The descriptions of scenery, battles, etc are positively amazing and you will feel like you are in the middle of it all. Cornwell has included characters that we are familiar with but some of them (Lancelot in particular) are given very different personalities or rolls in the overall story (Mordred for example is the true king, Uther's grandson, but a crippled infant, while Arthur is Uther's bastard son who has come to protect the child). Some may find the changes in a few of the personalities disturbing (if you really hold to the well known Arthurian legends) but I found it enjoyable to read something a bit new in a familiar story; I honestly hated Lancelot once his true personality was revealed. The twists and turns throughout the story will keep you on the edge of your seat; you think you know this story well but Cornwell adds so much more to it in this novel. One good example is the relationship between Arthur and Guinevere (though their story becomes much more filled out as you progress through the trilogy); there is that flash of love and passion in the beginning but things never stay that way forever. Cornwell includes an extensive and detailed character and places list at the beginning and a few maps at the end which will really help you keep up with who is who and where they are since he does not use well known names for most of the locations. I think what I enjoyed most about this story (and the next two in the series) was that they are written in such a way as to be incredibly believable; I can really believe that THIS Arthur existed.

While The Mists of Avalon is still my hands down favorite when it comes to Arthurian stories, I positively LOVED this book (and trilogy). I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves a good story about Arthur and to those who love to read versions of the story that make it seem as if he could really have existed. If you enjoy this book, make sure that you read the following novels in the series: Enemy of God and Excalibur.

This Day in History...

April 28, 1442 - Edward IV, future King of England, and son of Richard, Duke of York, was born. He became the first king of the House of York after defeating the Lancastrian Henry VI.

April 28, 1603 - After an incredible reign, Elizabeth I's funeral took place at Westminster Abbey. She had died at the end of March at Richmond Palace. Her death was greeted by stunned disbelief - most of the English population had never known a monarch other than Elizabeth.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

This Day in History...

April 27, 1124 - David I becomes King of Scots.

April 27, 1296 - Edward I leads an army to the north and defeated the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar.

April 27, 1776 - Parliament passes the Tea Act, further enraging the American colonists. This Act would lead to the famous Boston Tea Party.

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme hosted by MizB at Should be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

A Favorite of the Queen, Jean Plaidy

Her dear sister of Scotland must understand that nothing would delight her more than to hear that the truth had been discovered and Mary proclaimed innocent of her husband's murder.

This was necessary, for Amy Robsart had a disturbing habit of rising from the grave now and then.

Monday, April 26, 2010

This Day in History...

April 26, 1607 - Captain John Smith landed at Cape Henry,Virginia with the first group of colonists who established a permanent settlement in the New World.

April 26, 1865 - John Wilkes Booth is shot and killed while hiding in a barn twelve days after assassinating President Lincoln.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

This Day in History...

April 25, 1284 - Edward II was born at Caernarvon Castle in Wales. He was the first (English) Prince of Wales.

April 25, 1464 – Yorkists, lead by John Neville, defeated the Lancastrians, lead by the Duke of Somerset, at the Battle of Hedgeley Moor.

Friday, April 23, 2010

This Day in History...

April 23, 1016 - Death of Aethelred II (the Unready), one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England. He was buried at St. Paul's Cathedral.

April 23, 1224 - Eleanor, daughter of King John, married William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (eldest son of the famous William Marshal).

April 23, 1564 and 1616 - The birth of playwright William Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon. He died on his 52nd birthday.

April 23, 1661 - Charles II was crowned King of England, completing the restoration of the monarchy.

April 23 is St. George's Day in England.

Book Review: A Treasury of Royal Scandals

A Treasury of Royal Scandals, Michael Farquhar
2.5 roses

As the title suggests, this is quite an entertaining look at centuries of royal scandals. I was really looking forward to this one as I always find the scandalous stories quite amusing. I can't say I was completely disappointed as it was an entertaining read but I really felt this just came up a bit short. No one should go into this thinking it is going to be a serious read, it is, after all, a collection of scandalous stories!

The tabloid style of writing and some humorous chapter titles (The Case of the Purloined Penis, How to Make a Bloody Mary, Swimming in a Shallow Gene Pool, etc) are part of what make this an amusing read. The stories themselves are incredible and seem funnier because they are true. Farquhar covers many different time periods, from the horrific behavior of Roman emperors to the marital escapades of Henry VIII to Catherine the Great's intimate relationships. There is very little on 20th century royalty as the author states that he doesn't think the actions of current royalty can hold a candle to what has happened in the past. Because of the huge scope he is trying to cover in this book most of the stories are quite short and condensed with very little detail. There are also some interesting and scandalous royals left out. What can get very confusing is that the book is divided up more by subject than by time period or location so there are some royals that are mentioned several times throughout. There is some historical fact mixed in but for the most part the book consists of the numerous theories and rumors surrounding all the various royals, though I suppose the fact that there have been so many rumors about royalty is what makes them so darned interesting.

This was a very easy read and I finished it quickly. I'm not sure why I felt let down after reading it but perhaps I was looking for a bit more detail with some of the stories. If you are looking for a light, fun read and are not too concerned with overwhelming historical accuracy and research, this book is probably for you. Those well read in the various time periods may find it amusing if they can overlook some of the inaccuracy.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book Review: My Lord John

My Lord John, Georgette Heyer
2 roses

Another of Georgette Heyer's medieval novels, My Lord John focuses on the life of John, Duke of Bedford, one of Henry V's younger brothers. This is historical fiction and is a very in depth look at the politics of Henry IV's time. Despite a rather slow start (and spontaneous sections that are rather boring), things do pick up somewhat and I found myself rather interested in the story that Ms. Heyer tells. It was originally supposed to be the entire life story of the Duke of Bedford but she was unable to finish. The story begins in 1393 when John is about 4 and ends in 1413 with the death of his father, Henry IV. Between those years the country is thrown into turmoil with the problems connected to Richard II's reign and Henry Bolingbroke's eventual claim of the English crown. Once Henry is king, he sends John to the north of England as Lord Warden of the North and this is where John's real growing up and maturing happens. Throughout the novel we see John's interactions not only with his father but with his brothers, most especially Henry of Monmouth, the future Henry V.

I have to confess that it was quite slow to get into and extremely confusing with the many different (and usually unfamiliar) names some of the characters go by (there are about four ways that people address John of Gaunt). Eventually I was able to get them somewhat straight in my head and it wasn't nearly as confusing. The language and dialogue can be a bit tough to follow in places but the author was trying to stay true to the time and I don't feel any of it was in any way "over the top." If you are looking for a love story of some sort this is not the novel for you. If you are looking for a novel with a lot of action and war and bloodshed, this is not the novel for you either. There really is not that much action at all, though you do get detailed descriptions of events happening elsewhere (but considering the fact that the story is basically told from the perspective of a small child and then a young man on the fringes of events, that's probably to be expected) and it can get a bit boring at times. However, the descriptions of places, customs, laws, daily life, and politics are extremely detailed and obviously well researched. Her attention to detail is really phenomenal. Ms. Heyer is able to paint a fantastic and accurate picture of life in late 14th and early 15th century England for her readers. Watching John grow up and mature, learning to maneuver his way through politics, was fascinating and it was easy to see why his older brother came to rely on him so heavily. All the characters get some time "in the spotlight" so to speak but the story is essentially John's. There are many characters in this novel but family trees and a list of characters and their various nom de plumes are included to help the reader attempt to sort through them all. There is also a handy glossary at the back to help with those unfamiliar medieval terms.

It was interesting to me to see those involved in the beginnings of the Wars of the Roses. I really would've loved to see how and where Heyer would have ended the story; it ends mid-sentence. It is sad that she died before having the chance to finish this proposed trilogy of her favorite era in British history. I also learned a great deal about the time period and I always enjoy that. All that being said, overall the novel is pretty dull and dry with hardly any action, no type of love story, and heaps of historical information. Even though I was interested in the story and enjoyed the meticulously researched details of life and people, I wouldn't recommend this to the causal reader or to someone unfamiliar with the time period. There is simply too much information thrown out there and it would be very easy to get frustrated and bogged down. If you don't mind a rather dry read if there is a lot of good historical information, this book is certainly for you!

This Day in History...

April 22, 1433 - John, Duke of Bedford, Henry V's younger brother, married Jacquetta of Luxembourg in Thérouenne, France.

April 22, 1445 - Henry VI married Margaret of Anjou at Titchfield Abbey.

April 22, 1662 - Charles II granted a charter to the Royal Society of London. The Society became an important center of scientific activity.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

This Day in History...

April 21, 1509 - Henry VIII became King of England after the death of his father, Henry VII. Thus began one of the most famous reigns in British history.

April 21, 1689 - William III and Mary II were crowned joint king and queen of England.

April 21, 1816 - Charlotte Bronte, eldest of the three sisters, was born in Yorkshire. Jane Eyre is her most famous work.

And Happy Birthday to Queen Elizabeth II on her 82nd birthday!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

This Day in History...

April 20, 1653 - Oliver Cromwell dissolved the 'Rump Parliament.' It had followed the 'Long Parliament' which had governed during the English Civil War.

Monday, April 19, 2010

This Day in History...

April 19, 1587 - Sir Francis Drake sailed a small number of ships into Cadiz Harbour, Spain, and sank most of the Spanish fleet. The incident became known as 'singeing the King of Spain's beard'. This didn't stop the Spanish Armada but it did seem to delay it until 1588.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

This Day in History...

April 17, 1423 - John, Duke of Bedford (younger brother of Henry V) married Anne of Burgundy at Troyes Cathedral. After Anne's death during childbirth in 1432, John married Jacquetta of Luxembourg. Jacquetta later married Richard Woodville and among their children was Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV.

This Day in History...

April 17, 1397 - Geoffrey Chaucer tells his Canterbury Tales for the first time at Richard II's court. It is also believed that this date is the start of the pilgrimage in the Tales.

April 17, 1861 - Virginia secedes from the Union.

Friday, April 16, 2010

This Day in History...

April 16, 1178 BC - It is roughly calculated that this is the date that Odysseus finally made it home from the Trojan War.

April 16, 1521 - Martin Luther's first appearance before the Court of Worms and the Holy Roman Emperor.

April 16, 1746 - Bonnie Prince Charlie (the Young Pretender) is defeated at the Battle of Culloden.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

This Day in History...

April 15, 1865 - President Lincoln dies after being shot the previous day by John Wilkes Booth.

April 15, 1912 - The RMS Titanic sinks at 2:20 am after hitting an iceberg late in the evening of the 14th.

Cats in History

As a follow up to my post yesterday about Shakespeare Cats, I thought I would share some more of Susan Herbert's creations with you.

The Romanovs

Emperor Napoleon

"Let them eat cat treats."

The Princes in the Tower

Nine Days Queen, Jane Grey

His Royal Catness, Edward VI

The appropriately named Cat Howard.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

This Day in History...

April 14, 1471 - In a heavy fog, Edward IV defeats Warwick and the Lancastrians at the battle of Barnet. Warwick is killed and Edward's throne is secured when he defeats Margaret of Anjou a couple of weeks later at Tewkesbury.

April 14, 1912 - At 11:40 pm, the RMS Titanic strikes an iceberg in the North Atlantic. A little over two hours later the ship sinks beneath the waves, taking over 1500 people with her to the bottom. Because of out dated rules, there were only enough lifeboats for about half the people on board. A little over 700 people survived. Cats!

I love Shakespeare.

I love cats.

Naturally a book entitled Shakespeare Cats is going to catch my eye. Susan Herbert took scenes from some of Shakespeare's most famous plays...and recast the rolls with cats! It is really adorable! Here are some of my favorite images from the book. I was able to scan some of the images myself...until my scanner decided to take a vacation and I had to go in search of some of the others on the internet. Once I get the technology up and running again I will upload some more of these adorable pictures! Enjoy!

Check back tomorrow for "cats in history!"

"Oh pussy cat, oh pussy cat, wherefore art thou pussy cat?"
Probably one of my favorites.

A cat nap?

"Go get some water and wash this filthy witness from your hand."

"Remember who commended thy yellow stockings..."
Malvolio and Olivia

"Come sit upon this kitty bed..."
Titania and Bottom

"We few, we happy few, we band of tomcats..."

"There's catnip, that's for remembrance."

"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!"
King Lear

"But if I gave my wife a catnip mouse -"
Iago to Othello


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

This Day in History...

April 13, 1275 - Eleanor de Monfort, youngest daughter of King John and Simon de Monfort's wife, died and is buried at Montargis Abbey in France.

Monday, April 12, 2010

This Day in History...

April 12, 1567 - The Earl of Bothwell was found not guilty of the murder of Lord Darnley, Mary Queen of Scots' English husband. Darnley had been found strangled to death beneath his window after an explosion. Bothwell and Mary then married.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

This Day in History...

April 11, 1240 - Llewelyn Fawr (the Great), Prince of Gwynedd, died at the Aberconwy Abbey and was buried there. Llewelyn's dream was a strong, united Wales. He married Joanna, daughter of the English King John.

Sharon Kay Penman's excellent novel Here Be Dragons is about Llewelyn's life. If you haven't (what's wrong with you?) you need to!

Friday, April 9, 2010

This Day in History...

April 9, 1413 - Henry V is crowned King of England. His eventually married Princess Catherine of France to help solidify his claim to the Crown of France.

April 9, 1483 - Edward V, eldest son of Edward IV, became king upon his father's untimely death. He was never crowned, though. Edward and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York, disappeared from the Tower a couple of months later and their fate remains a mystery to this day and a hot topic of debate. Some believe their uncle Richard III had them killed, others think he spirited them off somewhere, while others believe Henry VII killed the boys.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Plots?

BTT is hosted by Deb at Wordpress.

Q: Plots? Or stream-of-consciousness? Which would you rather read?

I think I am probably more of a fan of a book with a plot(s). There is more a writer can do with a work with a plot over writing stream-of-consciousness. While you would get much more detail of a character's true thoughts and feelings in S-o-C it could be a bit difficult to achieve believability in some genres. I just prefer something with a good, interesting plot.

Book Review: The Sixth Wife

The Sixth Wife, Jean Plaidy
4 roses

I am a huge Jean Plaidy fan; I read all I can get! I just really enjoy the good research and clean writing in her books and this novel about Henry VIII's sixth and final wife is no exception.

While many other Tudor books cover Katherine Parr and her role in Princess Elizabeth's life, none of them truly focus just on Katherine in any believable way. This one does that and I think that is why this is probably my favorite book (so far) about Henry VIII's last queen. Plaidy's novel really shows Katherine as an intelligent and attractive woman, desperately in love with Thomas Seymour, but a woman who knows there is no way to say no to the King. Through Plaidy's wonderful writing you really see how stressful Katherine's life was while married to Henry, having to deal with the extreme fickleness of his affections and constantly feeling as if the sword was just waiting at the back of her neck. Queen Katherine was also interested in the New Learning and so became a target for Catholics hoping to bring the religion back to England. The depth of the scheming her enemies went to in order to bring her down are covered in this book and it is amazing (and a bit of good luck) that she was able to survive their attempts. Plaidy's writing really brings the Tudor court alive with the perfect details of everyday life along with all the intrigue and political and religious turmoil of the time; it was easy to feel the stress the Queen was under every day of her marriage. We also see in this novel how much of a mother Katherine became to Henry's youngest children Edward and Elizabeth as well as to Jane Grey. Even once Henry is dead and she is married to Thomas Seymour she can't have a happy life as she eventually realizes that her husband is after the Princess Elizabeth. Again, Plaidy's exceptional writing shines through and you can really feel the grief and sadness Katherine dealt with at the hands of Seymour.

Some of Plaidy's novels can be a bit dry but this one does not fall into that category. The writing is wonderful and full of emotion. The dialogue does not seem entirely modern but she doesn't pepper her story with medieval phrases. Her research is impeccable and she is masterful at weaving it into a moving story. All of the major players at the Tudor court are here in the novel, Henry, the Seymours, Prince Edward, Princess Elizabeth, Wriothesley, etc, and they are portrayed fairly and accurately but the novel is very much focused on Katherine and how she interacts with these various people. I would certainly suggest this novel to Tudor lovers and Plaidy lovers. I also believe it would be a good read for the reader casually interested in this time period as you will get an exceptionally written story full of emotion but very good historical details as well.

This Day in History...

Couldn't really find too much for today so I'm just posting a few that are about a couple things that I already love - my Atlanta Braves and the Titanic.

April 8, 1974 - Baseball player Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves hits his 715th career home run, breaking Babe Ruth's long standing record of 714 homers.

April 8, 1997 - The results of the first ultrasonic scan of the Titanic's bow gave researchers some revealing new information. A series of six short slits appear to be the principal damage done to the ship after it struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic in 1912.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

This Day in History...

April 7, 1770 - The English romantic poet and future Poet Laureate William Wordsworth was born.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

This Day in History...

April 6, 1199 - Richard I (Richard the Lionheart) dies after being hit by an arrow at the Siege of Chalus in France. He is buried at Fontevrault Abbey. His mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine would later be buried there as well.

April 6,1590 - Queen Elizabeth's spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham died at about the age of 58. He probably saved her life a few times when he uncovered plots against her.

Monday, April 5, 2010

This Day in History...

April 5, 1843 - Queen Victoria proclaimed Hong Kong a British colony. It remained so for 99 years.

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page. It is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

The Scarlet Lion, Elizabeth Chadwick

Oh my god! Finally!! Thank you so much to the person who sent this to me! I actually jumped up and down in excitement when it was delivered! Can't wait to loose myself in the pages.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

This Day in History...

April 3, 1043 - Edward the Confessor, son of Æthelred the Unready and Emma of Normandy, is crowned King of England at Winchester Cathedral. He was one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings. His biggest contribution to history is Westminster Abbey.

Friday, April 2, 2010

This Day in History...

April 2, 1502 - Prince Arthur, Prince of Wales, died at Ludlow Castle. His untimely death would set into motion the dramatic events of his brother Henry VIII's reign.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Book Review: The Queen's Pawn

The Queen's Pawn, Christy English
3.5 roses

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!

This Day in History...

April 1, 1204 - Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Henry II, died at Fontevrault Abbey in France. She was 82. No other queen consort would to reach this advanced age for over 700 years. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, wife of George VI, passed away on March 30, 2002 at 101.