To Be Queen, Christy English
I was honored to get an early copy to review from the author. This is Ms. English's second novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine (it can be seen as a prequel to her original novel The Queen's Pawn) and focuses on her earlier years as Queen of France. Once again, the author's true love of her subject comes shining through, making for a good read.
In a refreshing change from what seems to have been the trend this past year where Eleanor is concerned, Christy English has written a novel about Eleanor's time as Queen of France and time on Crusade without turning it into a sordid tale full of the lady's "numerous" affairs. She portrays Eleanor in the beginning as determined and ambitious yet knowing she is young and in need of help and protection as Duchess of Aquitaine. Throughout the novel we see her grow and mature and at the end we can see the beginnings of the strong Queen who is willing to take chances to get what she wants. I really enjoyed her character in this novel; it was a refreshing change to see her before she had become hardened by her life with Henry. Most of her development seems to happen while she is on Crusade and it was rather fascinating to see how the author showed the changes she went through during this time. Ms. English's wonderful characterization didn't stop with Eleanor. We see her first husband, King Louis, in much more detail here than in most novels and while he is weak and overly pious, he obviously loves Eleanor and you can feel bad for him when it becomes obvious that the marriage is not going to work. We also get more detail concerning Eleanor's younger sister Petra, showing that the strength in the family didn't stop with the more famous sister. Of course, towards the end, the powerful and extremely ambitious Henry of Normandy appears and Eleanor begins to take the reins of her life into her own hands. Ms. English also does an outstanding job of helping the reader imagine what life would have been like for during this very volatile time period; her descriptions of Eleanor's experiences while on Crusade are wonderful and really make it easy to picture what sights, sounds, and smells the Crusaders would have encountered in this very foreign land.
So much of what I have read concerning this famous lady really focuses on her passionate and tumultuous marriage to Henry II, glazing over her early years as Queen of France, and so I found this take on her story quite refreshing. The author has managed to balance historical fact with fiction, keeping it within the bounds of believability while at the same time making it an entertaining and interesting read. Her love of Eleanor and her life really shows in her writing; it is obvious that she wants to show a much more believable and realistic Eleanor to the world. This is not a "heavy" read and I think it would be a great starting point for those who want to read about Eleanor of Aquitaine but aren't ready for some of the more epic sized renditions. I really enjoyed this novel and I am looking forward to this author's next episode on this very famous Queen.
*Thank you to Christy English for providing me with the advanced copy!