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A devil of a good read
Devil's Brood - Sharon Kay Penman
Member Name: jillycat
Devil's Brood - Sharon Kay Penman
Date: 16/08/09, updated on 16/08/09 (98 review reads)
Advantages: beautifully written great characterization
Disadvantages: it ended!
This is the Third book in the Henry the II and Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy.
The other books are When Christ and His Saints Slept and Time and Chance
About the author
Sharon Penman was born on the August 13, 1945 in New York. She is an American historical novelist, of Anglo-Irish ancestry. She is most well known for her novels and mysteries about English and Welsh royalty during the Middle Ages. She is know for her for meticulous research of the characters, settings, and events she presents in her fiction and for this reason I am sure she has won several awards for her books, prior to being an authour she had studied both history and law and became a tax lawyer.
About the book
The period in history that this book covers takes over from the ending of Time and Chance with the consequences for Henry II of the murder of Thomas Becket. It is also during this period that King Henry II finds himself viciously betrayed by his wife Eleanor and their three eldest sons the young King Henry, Geoffrey of Brittany and Richard the Lion Heart. As the book develops we gradually see John "Lackland" add his own chalice of poison and betrayal into the mix. Eleanor and her oldest three sons enter into a rebellion against Henry II they commit what Henry sees as the ultimate in betrayal as they align themselves with one of his most hated enemies King Louis of France. The first rebellion has devastating consequences for both Henry and Eleanor's marriage and he manages to capture her and keep her his royal prisoner for many years. In time Henry quells the rebellion and forgives his sons, even though Henry forgives his sons, they are still not happy with his benevolence and it eventually leads to more power struggles and rebellions. I wont elaborate too much on the rest the plots twists and turns though history buffs will know what happened so they wouldn't mind me telling the outcome but for those who don't this book takes you to the end of Henry's reign.
My opinion of the book
Sharon Penman's writing style is not for the faint hearted. She writes in rich detail about all aspects of the time and this includes the battles. She is in my opinion one of the best historical novelist around because she combines very well historical and know facts with characterization of the figures of history. The fiction parts are there really to help to accentuate the real events as these are dramatic enough. She simply has an exceptional gift to portrait humans and their feelings and this conjures them to life on the page for you to read.
Her portrayal of Henry the II through out this book is that of a complex and fractured human being. As Henry returns from his self imposed exile to Ireland following Becket's murder you see him try to solve the problems that this brought about and heal the chasm that now exists between the church and the crown. Penman paints a picture of Henry as being a King who is continuing to struggling with both the personal and political components in his life that no only lead up to Becket's murder but the events that happen later. He still can not reconcile himself to Becket's turn from him as a trusted friend to an enemy. One of the most vivid and powerful moments in the novel is Henry's scene at Becket's tomb where is seeking forgiveness and doing penance for his role in the murder. She pens masterfully his sense of loss of a friend, as Henry talks to Becket at his tomb he addresses him as friend with both love and bitterness at what happened between them.
The contradictions in Henry's life are well written in that he has it all and but also that Henry has nothing. He has sons, but they go their own way and never heed his advice and in fact they don't understand one another at all. He has power and yet in some ways this power is his downfall because he cannot relinquish his grip of that power and share it with his sons which is what they are desperate for. This especially noticeable with Hal (the young King Henry) in that though Hal is a crowned King, Henry will not share this power with him. The reasons for this are complicated and Penman writes Henry's frustration that Hal is easily swayed and is unable to make a decision and stand by with a deft touch.
Henry's relationship with Eleanor changes in this book from that in the in other books in the series it moves from their earlier violate and lust filled relationship in previous books to becoming a poisoned. He loves her still but cannot forgive her for her role in the rebellion. His sense of betrayal and lack of understanding of Eleanor's motives is described in beautiful anguished detail that makes you filled with sorrow and sympathy for this fragile but yet all powerful monarch. The issues of control with in the relationship are again Henry's downfall and the writing of this makes you just want to rescue and put together this family and their relationship, but because she is writing history you know this will never happen and the chasum between them will never fully heal all of which makes her writing and description more poignant.
Her handling and writing of Eleanor of Aquitaine character and motives is also impressive and skillfully done. Eleanor is evoked and conjured into life on the pages of this book not as a distant figure of historical times but as a commanding queen and duchess. She also pens her as a passionate wife and mother. It is through the struggles to unite the role of mother and wife that Penman's writing comes into a tour de force as Eleanor is again and again forced to choose between her sons and her husband and between being a Queen and the Duchess of Aquitaine. As she describes moments in history such as where Eleanor is forced to leave and flee Aquitaine and is then captured by Henry you feel her pain by Penman's exquisite writing of his lack of understanding of why she choose to champion the rights of her sons to rule and have power over her duty as a wife.
The chronically of Eleanor's time as Henry's prisoner at various locations is again wonderfully described and we see Eleanor move from being the haughty Queen as seen in Time and Chance, to someone who then has reconcile within herself and to recognizes the injustice in some of her actions. We also read about with great depth the bitter regret she has for the cataclysmic effect those actions have had on her family. The times when Henry and Eleanor are united in loss of their children and grandchildren is well written. You are filled with emotion as the pair alternate between clinging together with their loss and then ripping one another apart again with their sense of bitterness and betrayal by one another. These two figures are definitely the tragic lovers of this age and you sense through her writing the depth of those feelings and also the animosity that has now occurred through their actions towards one another.
Two of the characters that I enjoyed the most in the reading after Henry and Eleanor of course was Henry and Eleanor's son Geoffrey and his wife Constance Duchess of Brittany. I have to admit I didn't really know much about this character prior to this book. I am familiar with Richard Lion heart and John mainly from other historical novels about this period but Geoffrey and his wife were new to me till this book. The parts within this novel where we read about this intelligent and enigmatic man are gently written we see him as a character who contemplates all of his actions which highlights the contrast between himself and the impulsive but loveable Hal in a stark way. This often leaves you wondering how history may have been different if he hadn't died. The way in which she writes Geoffrey and his considered actions in his ruling of Brittany and his thoughtfulness about entering into another rebellion endears you to this man in no way that cold hard facts alone can.
The other sons Richard, Hal and John are well described. The impetuousness of Hal is well captured in his response to events and how he speaks to people within the novel. She illustrates well how he is a changeable as the wind in his opinions. The scene and events around his death I have to admit did bring a tear to my eye as you see this grown man become a scared little boy in the face of death but acting with courage as he seeks forgiveness for his father and the church. Richard is narrated with a strong sense of self and self-righteousness in his approach to the rebellions. He is portrayed as quick tempered and full of blood lust his was the character I least warmed too and I almost felt pleased when events did not go his way. Penman does not go into addressing questions about Richard sexuality within the book and for this I am pleased as I feel it would have distracted from the narrative events. She portrays the reasons for his unwillingness to marry as him being too busy with Aquitaine and just being too busy at war. His desire to go on crusade is well handed with him being shown as often champing at the bit go and his frustration at being thwarted described in wonderful prose. John perhaps is the least developed of the sons and as a teenager his part in the rebellions only started towards the end. Penman portrays him as introverted character that is damaged by neglect by his parents and is dismissed and forgotten by his brother other than to torment. It is easy to see from this portrayal how John would develop into the complex King of history.
The book is well researched and her appraisal of the events and this turbulent time in history are well chronicled and illustrated. The politics are explained in a way that makes them easy to understand and believe you me the politics of this age in history make a spider's web look easy to untangle. I like the way she weaves the politics of the Church into the story and how the power of Rome was not to be ignored in the monarch's decisions. This is well demonstrated by the scenes at the negotiation of a truce with Henry his sons and Philippe of France the description of the Cardinal and how he mediates peace to the benefit of Rome and the Crusades to save the Holy City are masterful and brought a smile to my face as I read it.
While the book was extremely long, it didn't seem over-written or boring in my opinion. The chapters are well defined always have a point of reference letting you know the date and location of events to help the reader see and keep in touch with where we are in the history of events. The pace of the story in my opinion is well time and at no point did I feel she was laboring a point or rushing through important events of the time to move the story forward. The events are not embellished in any real sense and with the story including war, betrayal, attempted fratricide, and kidnap there really is no reason for any author to add to events.
One of the things that I like about the book is the authors notes at the end which tell you some of the reasons for her choice of inclusions of some points and omissions and explaining her research.
This book though in a series does stand alone as a book and you would enjoy it even if you haven't read the other books. But I would suggest that they are best read in order to help you understand the points in history and Penman's placing of these events and characterization of the figures.
This is a wonderfully written book with great attention to detail and beautiful descriptions of events. The characterization of these figures of history breathe life on the pages of the book and you find yourself getting emotionally involved in their life's and struggles. You end up wanting to heal this fractured and dysfunctional family but torn by the knowledge this will never happen. Though this book was started as a trilogy the author has since said she will write another book in the series about Richard and John and I can't wait for it to come out. This isn't a quick read but if you like historical fiction I would definitely recommend reading it.
Paperback: 848 pages
Publisher: Penguin (6 Aug 2009)
Available currently from Amazon for £6.99 in paperback
Thanks for reading Jillycat
Summary: A story of war betrayal fratricide love and royalty in the middle ages