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The captive Queen - Alison Weir
What appealed about this book?
A fellow reviewer had recommended this author to me and as this time in history has always interested me I found the concept appealing - fiction based on history. This was entirely new to me and I looked forward to beginning the adventure....it couldn't be described as anything else based on the period. The cover ,which depicts an alluring Eleanor of Aquitaine, was reminiscent of films based on the Plantagenet's. The blurb and comments on the back cover made me impatient to begin.
The prose begins with a young Eleanor, Queen of France, married to Louis but clearly longing to be elsewhere. Considered to be flighty and outspoken, some clergy are unhappy with the union and are more than happy to support Eleanor's request for divorce. A strong woman, Eleanor would have been capable to rule her lands. Though, to be supported by her people and peers she would clearly benefit by having a strong man by her side as husband and Duke. A red blooded and fiery male has already shown interest and sparked her desire - Henry FitzEmpress was younger than her but appeared to be a leader in the making - they would rule her lands together with success. Soon married, to Louis' anger, the happy couple begin life together as equals, though cracks begin to form and his ambition to be King of England consumes Henry. He is not long in asserting his rights and authority over Eleanor. Her beloved people of Aquitaine are forced to obey their new Duke....and so, it would seem, over time is Eleanor. Her loyalty will be tested to the extreme to her husband - he is not called 'The devils brood' for nothing....
Step back in time with me...
I shall mention, first, the handy inclusion of a map and Eleanor's family connections. These are on the early pages of the book and I found them interesting as well as a handy reference. The book is formatted in sections and small chapters - this I found made sense and clearly marked the defining periods of time.
Eleanor is introduced straight away and is young. She is enduring a marriage to Louis that is without much physical contact and this leaves her feeling unsatisfied. It is clear from the early pages that this young woman is starved of affection in the bedroom, though Louis does love her dearly. I was left without any doubts that Eleanor had the need to be satisfied sexually. It took me a while to warm to Eleanor as initially I felt sympathy for King Louis, though as the pages turned I could see a pattern of nothingness in her life. As she was a woman, even though she was Queen of France, she was considered too weak to have any say in political matters or otherwise. There was no stimulation for this young woman who was strong willed and was a beauty who captivated many - she wanted her freedom, to rule Aquitaine as a Duchess and take a man that would make her feel like a woman in every way. At the thought of this I found myself rooting for Eleanor and hoping that she would be set free. As the pace of the book is pretty quick I didn't have long to wait before I saw The Queen of France get what she wanted. And now to get her man - already lined up was the love of her life, who just happened to be a thrill seeking lover too, his name was Henry FitzEmpress.
What I liked about the opening to the prose was the pace and the way that description is woven into the story without going off on a tangent. Due to the frequent, small, bursts of locale and environment description I felt like all of my senses had been targeted and I was back in 1151. The gowns were detailed beautifully and with an air of sensuality when appropriate - normally when Henry was admiring Eleanor's form. It was inevitable that some sex scenes would make an appearance and I think that these portrayed the intense passion that was woven deeply into the relationship between a young Henry and his older wife Eleanor. I was left with very little doubt that Eleanor had now found a man who satisfied her. At times I wondered if the story would ever take off properly as it seemed to be one bedroom session followed in close succession by another - even though the writing was good I was beginning to grow a little impatient to be getting on with the story. I am happy to say that it did get going again and a more appropriate portion of the prose was retained for more lust and passion. Don't get me wrong I like passion but I do like a story to progress.
I couldn't really warm to Henry at all. From first meeting his character I didn't trust his motives and once married he began showing a different, paternalistic, side to him which would develop strongly as the prose moved on. He had his tender moments with Eleanor but was cruel with her people and at the same time to his wife - and equal as they had agreed - Eleanor. If her people hurt then she hurt and I liked her all the more for that, she had compassion. Henry had a plan and he was sticking to it no matter who got in his way. He was going to be King of England. Once he was acquainted with Thomas Beckett - who would later betray him - I felt even more distanced from him and my heart was with the beautiful Eleanor of Aquitaine - soon to be crowned Queen of England at the side of her successful and powerful husband the new King of England - she was squeezed out of the politics and 'mans' business more and more with the influence of Henry's new best friend - Thomas. Clear to everyone what Thomas was up to, the King would hear nothing bad said about him, he loved him like a brother and it seemed more than his wife! The prose took on a different tone now that Thomas was included and more depth and dimension appeared in the main protagonists. A different side to the persona was evident in Henry, Thomas and Eleanor. Things were beginning to change between King and Queen, though her loyalty and love for her husband was deep rooted and strong as ever.
The location swiftly changed from areas in France when need be, and then back over to England. This was both engaging and happily kept a good pace - I can sometimes lose interest if I have to endure all of the happenings that take place whilst travelling long distances and once a landscape has been described and what someone has eaten for lunch I don't really want to know much more, Alison Weir made a good choice in keeping that sort of information to a minimum whilst giving you enough to activate the senses and see an image in the minds eye. The same can be said for battles and feuds that needed to be tackled by Henry and I like the fact that much of the prose focuses on Eleanor when husband and wife are separated. On the occasions that we happen upon Henry and his activities, whilst apart from is beautiful wife, we often find him needing to sate himself with various women - another quality that didn't endear him to me.
After the shocking murder of Thomas Becket and subsequent deterioration in Henry's mood and marriage to Eleanor the book takes on another dimension which includes the many offspring that Henry has sired (some not Eleanor's). The pace remains a good speed and the pages turn as quickly as I am eager to know what will come next - even though the book is based on historical events I still felt the urgency, so I guess that tells you something about the authors style of writing. Having been introduced to the children when they were younger, briefly, the sons are now appearing more in the prose - they remain two dimensional but as this is a story about Eleanor I wasn't disappointed by that. Eleanor and Henry were well rounded by Alison Weir and I felt like I knew them quite well by the end of the book.
The way that the relationship between Eleanor and Henry developed, blossomed and then changed throughout the prose was very well depicted. The younger years with the obvious youthful and energetic passion and ambition - infused with boundless energy. The description made it easy to imagine their antics. As progress was made with territory and titles it was obvious that the strain of separation for long periods was telling on them both - though they each responded differently with Eleanor remaining faithful. Come the latter part of the tale the pair are aging and even then women were concerned with their looks - Eleanor noticing lines and greying hair. Henry more bitter, if possible, after the death of his mistress and cruel beyond belief to the former love of his life - his Eleanor. I could not believe how submissive women were expected to be - even as Queen of England Eleanor was kept down by her domineering husband, Henry. All rights were his and none were hers. It was unbelievable that someone as strong willed and wise as Eleanor should not be able to rule in her own right because she was the wrong gender, or at least have equality. One of the later moments that they had together entailed a bitter argument after which Henry informed her he wanted her in the bed as it was his right, she denied him that right and fortunately he let her be. Whilst reading that section I was saddened that their relationship had reached such a low point and also surprised that his rights as a man included forcing his wife to sleep with him. That was thought provoking and one of the most powerful parts of the book for me.
I was surprised, towards the end of the novel, to find myself feeling sympathy towards Henry. Having never come close to warming to him. Weir develops the mood, environment and chemistry with talent - I was deeply moved and saw vulnerability in this mature man, this powerful King. Whilst Henry had finally endeared himself to me, Eleanor found her way deeper into my heart. Her grace towards a man who had been so cruel towards her was inspirational and Weir presented the nature of this woman, the Queen of England, wonderfully. Once again, I was challenged by the events and pondered the relationship further - both parties having made decisions that they maybe regretted. Had the intense love between this couple survived?
Having enjoyed this twisting tale, as told by Alison Weir, I have become more interested in Eleanor and Henry and have an urge to read more about them. This novel has been a satisfactory, nicely paced, introduction to the fascinating trials that occurred between this pair. I have empathy for them both in the end.
Sourcing this tale....
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Price it up...
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I have taken one star off due to the early lack of pace with the story when Alison concentrated on bedroom antics for a while. Once past that the story picked up pace nicely and she stuck to the story.
Yes. I can forgive the lack of pace when the author focused on 'rutting' for a while as the pace did develop and retain a speed once she stuck to the story. I warmed to Eleanor quite early in the prose and developed empathy for her. This book has sparked an interest and I will read more around her history. Henry was a slow burner for me, I could not warm to him at all up until almost the end of the book - this was appropriate and a pleasant surprise when it happened. Alison Weir can conjure emotions with her development of circumstances and there were two particularly strong pieces in the prose for me. I was pleased that descriptive passages where kept to a sensible length and my senses were aroused from her detail. There was much to interest me from history which was woven into an interesting novel. I think that the author has done a good job - though I'm not a historian so I wouldn't be aware of any historical errors....it's a good read.
Also published on Ciao.