on October 16, 2008
I've been waiting quite a few years to read the conclusion of Sharon Kay Penman's trilogy about Henry II of England, and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. When my copy of The Devil's Brood arrived on my doorstep, everything else got set aside as I dove in.
Thomas Becket has been murdered, and Henry has taken himself off to Ireland to bring that troublesome country under control. While he is in Ireland, his wife, Eleanor, is taking the management of her duchy, Aquitaine, into her own hands, as well as raising their numerous brood of children. Her favourite, Richard, is already learning the arts of war and Eleanor has decided that he will be Duke of Aquitaine in time. Their eldest son, Hal, has been crowned king (a custom among the French kings to ensure a smooth succession), and married, but he is proving to have none of his parent's cunning and skill at politics. Quite the opposite in fact. And John, the youngest of the children, is too young to any influence, but he watches and waits, caught as he is between two very strong willed parents.
When the sons are thwarted of any real power, and Eleanor joins them in rebellion, it unleashes consequences that no one can imagine. Especially for Eleanor, who has led a life that most women could only dream of, and having the daring to divorce her first husband and forge with her second husband an empire that was the mightiest in the Europe of its time. Most history of the time tends to blame the rebellion on Eleanor discovering about her husband's mistress, Rosamund Clifford, but the reality is much more different -- Eleanor was far more pragmatic and very much a realist.
And thankfully, so is Ms. Penman. This tale of Eleanor and Henry II and their children goes in a far more different direction than most novels set in this period. And for fans of the film <a href="[...]>The Lion in Winter</a> will find that this book varies quite a bit from the story presented in the movie -- and once I had read Penman's reasoning in her author's afterword, made a great deal of sense to me.
The several sequences in the book really hit me hard. One was of Henry at the tomb of Thomas Becket, doing penance in a night-long vigil; another was Eleanor coping with the reality of being Henry's prisoner, separated from her beloved sons and Aquitaine; the death of the young king, and most surprising of all, the depiction of the third son, Geoffrey, as he marries a woman just as ambitious as he is.
I found this to be a wonderful read, full of just the things I like in a historical novel -- a true sense of time and place that is different than our own; strong, interesting characters; lots of plot and new insights into a history that I knew well, and some very tight storytelling. Fans of Penman's previous novels will like the fact that this dovetails neatly into Here Be Dragons and there are hints that another novel about Eleanor, Richard and John are to come.
While it isn't quite necessary to have read the previous two novels in the trilogy -- Ms. Penman puts in enough background information to fill in the gaps -- it will help to understand more of Henry and Eleanor, and especially why Thomas Becket plays such a pivotal role in the story later.
Sharon Penman is an author that I happily recommend to anyone who wants their historical fiction to be full of adventure, conflict, and some truly amazing events. If you have read her work before, you already know how good she is; if you haven't tried any of her writing yet, this wouldn't be a horrible place to start, so go on ahead, clear some evenings ahead, and prepare to be entertained.
Five stars overall, and I would give it six if I could.
Devil's Brood is the third book in a trilogy that began with When Christ and His Saints Slept and continued with Time and Chance (Ballantine Reader's Circle). Devil's Brood tackles Henry and Eleanor's children, from Prince Hal down to John Lackland. The details of the rift between Henry, Eleanor, and their sons are well-known, but the way in which Sharon Kay Penman presents it here is unique.
In this book, Sharon Kay Penman continues her tradition of writing historical fiction that both tells a good story and educates the reader. The novel opens in 1172, fifteen months after Thomas Becket was murdered and just after Henry returns from a trip to Ireland to pay penance for his unwitting part in it. As with her other novels, the focus is on the interpersonal relationships: between Henry and his sons, Henry and Eleanor, Eleanor and her sons, and between Hal, Richard, and Geoffrey themselves. It's the kind of dysfunctional family you only read about in fiction, the distinction here being that these were, of course, real, living people. And Penman does a fantastic job of bring these people to life, 800 years later: all the little quirks of each of them are here, especially Henry's high energy and uncanny ability to travel hundreds of miles on horseback in short periods of time. .
The book is a bit of a slow read, and no wonder: at over 700 pages, this is a book to take your time over. It's taken six years for Penman to write the third book in the trilogy (on her acknowledgements page, she writes that a reader once remarked, "did Eleanor get lost in Aquitaine?"), but the wait was worth it; I enjoyed the historical detail of this novel, and the way in which the author manages to pull her research together into a comprehensive story that never fails to entertain and educate. Once again, Sharon Kay Penman has given me another reason to go do some research of my own on these fascinating historical figures. And as always, her writing is top-notch. In all, this is a very strong finish to a wonderful trilogy.
on October 16, 2008
I just finished it last night, and oh this was so worth the wait. Penman has what so many other historical fiction writers don't - a sense of how to bring real events to life, and and the ability to draw characters from such a distant time so realistically that we can laugh and cry with them, and miss them when we finally put the book down. She manages to flesh out what they were thinking when they made their decisions, and how they respond to the repercussions of those decisions. The interactions between the characters brought home the complexity of the characters. I was especially intrigued with Eleanor and Henry's relationship after her participation in the rebellion; theirs was a love that somehow managed to survive through rebellions and misdeeds. I was also intrigued with Hal and Geoffrey, two of the sons we don't hear that much about, but who were major players in the history of that time period.
While I really enjoyed it, there were times when I got tired of this family. If this wasn't historical fiction, rather someones idea, it probably would have been a wallbanger about midway through - it would have been hard for me to belive that a family could be this dysfunctional. But that fact that it was historical, based on research of primary sources, made me just shake my head as I read - and made me think many times of that Hepburn line in Lion in Winter 'well, all families have their little ups and downs...'.
I was trying to determine if this was a book I could recommend to people with little or no background of the history. While Penman does an excellent job introducing her characters, I'm just not sure. I think you need to know what happened in the other two books to get the full appreciation of what is going on (either by reading the books or already having the background). I think I'd suggest starting at the trilogy before going here. Which isn't a bad place to start!
Eager for her new book, hope that we don't wait so long! I think that book will dovetail very nicely to her first, Here Be Dragons. That is one of the best historicl fiction books I have ever read, and has led many readers to become fans of all of her books.
This is the latest book by Sharon Kay Penman, a giant in the historical fiction world. It was assumed that 'Devil's Brood' was the last in the trilogy, but Ms. Penman recently announced that she will be continuing this series and is currently working on the next book (working title: 'Lionheart'). And that is very good news for her fans!
'Devil's Brood' (the title, by the way, is a reference to Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine's children - historical chroniclers actually referred to them as the Devil's brood) picks up where 'Time and Chance' left off. It's been noted before, but I'll say it again: you don't need to read the previous two books to enjoy this one. Penman provides a nice recap to get you up to date in the first chapter.
The novel focuses on the disintegration of Henry and Eleanor's marriage and the rebellion of his children that followed. Penman had a challenging task here because although many historical facts are well known, history left us little insight into their motivations. Why did Eleanor encourage her children to rebel and why did her children embrace such rebellion? The author does a marvelous job of bringing the entire family to life. The character motivations are complex and compelling, the dialogue is sharp and witty, and the settings are vivid. Penman truly makes history come alive...you will feel as if you are a fly on the wall, watching this medieval family soap-opera unfold!
In my personal opinion (which counts for little, I assure you), 'Devil's Brood' wasn't quite as good as the first book in the series, 'When Christ and His Saints Slept,' but that in no way should keep you away from this book. Beg, borrow or steal it -- whatever you have to do, but read this book!
If ever there was an appropriate title for a book, Devil's Brood surely must be it! Penman's best work yet chronicles the disintegration of one of the most powerful couples of all time, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, as well as their squabbling brood of boys. Let me tell you, these kids would test the patience of a saint!
As the boys are growing to manhood Henry tries to let them stretch their wings by giving them their own lands and a small taste of power while making sure that it is his hands that are really firmly on the reigns of the British Empire as well as his lands across the channel in France. He crowns his eldest son, Hal, as the "young King" to squash any doubts as the to the British succession. A move he thinks will secure the throne and keep the peace. However, Hal chafes under this arrangement as he has no real power and no real income of his own. Meanwhile, Richard is Eleanor's heir to her lands in Aquitaine yet Henry tries to retain real control there too.
Regardless of the wisdom involved, the father in Henry struggles with the King and Henry tries to ensure lands and wealth for all his sons by marrying Geoffrey, the third son, to Constance, a wealthy heiress who brings him the lands of Brittany. This leaves his three eldest son's with just enough power and money to make trouble and when they are not warring with each other, they're declaring war on their father. In the first of these rebellions the unthinkable happens and they are joined by their mother, Eleanor, in taking arms against their father.
Henry puts down the rebellion, ends up forgiving his sons and the rebellious lords who helped them but he cannot forgive Eleanor, whose betrayal hurt worst of all. Eleanor pays dearly and ends up as Henry's prisoner for the next 15 years. While in prison we see a remarkable change in Eleanor. She has plenty of time to ponder the reasons for all the strife that occurs in their family and emerges as a wiser, softer, person who now realises all she took for granted.
I loved every minute of this fascinating story. Once again, Penman takes extremely complicated intricate history and turns in into a page turning novel. She manages to bring the reader inside the heads of these Historical figures making them come alive. Her writing was flawless and these characters had some of the best lines ever. You will laugh or wince at some of the zingers that the boys of the "Devil's Brood" throw at each other. You see the bittersweet relationship between Henry and Eleanor through their disintigration and how they manage to patch up some sort of parental alliance between them for the good of their children....better late than never!!
The secondary characters were so well written that they could each carry their own novel. I would not be dissapointed to read an entire novel about Geoffrey and Constance. Constance was a favorite of mine and the reader follows her from a bitter reluctant bride to a strong capable wife who is every bit as hungry for power and has the ambition of her larger than life mother in law.
Over the time I read this book I got so attatched to these characters. So much so that I was dreading the end...until I read the authors note where Penman states that she is writing yet another book continuing the story. How lucky for us! I only hope, as I settle myself in for the wait, that it won't be quite as long between this and the next one as it was between this and the last one.
This novel ranks as one of my top five of the year and I highly recommend it! 5/5 stars
Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine thought they had it all - the greatest empire since Charlemagne, healthy children including the heir and several to spare - so how did it all go so wrong? The Devil's Brood takes up the story where Time and Chance left off with the murder of Thomas Becket, as Henry returns from his self imposed exile to Ireland. Henry's three eldest sons are chafing at the bit to have lands and power of their own and egged on by Louis of France they join with their mother Eleanor in rebellion against their father. In time Henry quells the rebellion and forgives his sons, but he cannot forgive his wife and queen and he imprisons her. Even though Henry forgave his sons, they are still not happy with his generosity and it eventually leads to more power struggles and back-biting amongst the brothers, particularly young Hal, who suffers the ultimate punishment for his reckless deeds.
This was a fascinating story of a brilliant, powerful king whose blind love and trust in his sons lead him to make mistakes in judgment that eventually lead to his downfall. I also loved seeing a different side of the haughty, queenly Eleanor we saw in Time and Chance, as unlike her sons she does come to recognize the wrongness (well sometimes) of her actions and the cataclysmic effects those actions had on her family. Some readers may find the first part of this book a bit slow paced as Penman does spend time setting up the back history of Henry, Eleanor and the Becket murder, but hang in there as about half way through when the boys start turning on each other the pages literally started flying. Penman's dialogue was exceptional, although I couldn't decide who got the best lines, Henry or Richard - they just smoked off the page!
One of Penman's great strengths is to take the most complex political situations and put them into a story that not only entertains the reader but educates at the same time. Five stars and it appears from the author's notes and a recent blog interview that this will not be a trilogy, she will continue the story of Eleanor, Richard and John in one more book. Hurray!
For those of you coming away from this book wanting to know about William Marshal, I highly recommend Elizabeth Chadwick's The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion. They are hard to find in the US, but readily available in the UK and Canada.
Devils Brood is the definition of anticipation, the joy of reading a long awaited novel by a favorite author, one that surpasses your expectations.
The final book in a trilogy that began with WHEN CHRIST AND HIS SAINTS SLEPT, Penman leaves behind the confrontations between Becket, State and Church in TIME AND CHANCE and brings to the forefront a very human, very original and fresh vision of the final chapters of the marriage of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and the complex, dramatic relationships they each had with their sons.
Penman gives us a historically edgy, arrogant Henry, one that overlaps her notion of a flawed parent overwhelmed by bad decisions and love which is demonstrated full-force by the constant in-fighting, alliances and rebellions of his sons Richard, Geoffrey and John: Who are introduced as three tarnished, absorbing (self), fledging individuals, sparking with future strength and uncertainties and not the one diminensional caricatures we've come to expect. Nor is Eleanor. Though she is imprisoned for half the novel, Penman has empowered her with the wisdom and wit of an intelligent woman's middle years, whilst never forgetting this was the extraordinary Eleanor of Aquitaine, making her whispered presence at times the essence of DEVILS BROOD.
Penman's writing is fiercely detailed and delightfully dialogued. Her writing has matured to a diverse, altogether more skillful level. She has taken a well-known tale and presented it with a fresh perspective making DEVILS BROOD arguably her best novel yet.
The concluding chapter in Sharon Kay Penman's trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II, and their children, Devil's Brood, could almost read like a modern-day soap opera. If anyone believes that dysfunctionality began in the twentieth century, he or she would be sorely mistaken because, as this book proves, the Plantagenets invented the term and took it to a level not often attained in modern times.
The book opens with a lot of recapping of what's gone before; we get caught up on Henry and his domains, as well as his relationship with Eleanor and their children. Henry has made a crucial error in crowning his eldest son as king during his lifetime; this has resulted in Hal's discontent with the lack of control his father has given him, and Hal only needs to look to third son Geoffrey to find a willing ally against their father. Though the two often squabble with second son Richard, Henry is aghast when he learns all three have banded together to rebel, and that Eleanor is on the sons' side. Throughout the rest of the novel, we watch as Henry lays the blame for the rebellion solely on Eleanor, confining her and keeping her from her own Aquitaine as he manipulates his sons over and over again. Into the mix comes John, the youngest son, who manages to convince his father that he alone has his father's interests at heart, and Eleanor, now on the outside of power, must sit back tensely and watch as her family is torn asunder repeatedly and finally irreparably.
Once I got into the rhythm of the novel, I found myself totally immersed once again in Penman's recreation of the medieval court of Henry II. Penman does an excellent job of showing Henry's faults and his inability to believe his sons' betrayals, and to her credit, she does not overlook his daughters' roles, either. Eleanor is brought to life splendidly; always regal, she recognizes what is going on in her family but seems powerless to stop it. If the sons come across as spoiled brats at times, Penman at least gives us a reasonable view of their beefs with their father. As the story played out, I found myself caught up in the intrigues of the court and the relationships that can make or break a monarch. My biggest complaint is that Penman seemed to belabor the action in the beginning; I had a hard time waiting for the actual action to begin and when it did, it almost seemed like I'd waited too long to sustain my interest. However, a little perseverance on my part paid off handsomely as the novel worked its magic on me and I found myself an active observer in the court and times. I would actually give this book a very solid 4.5 stars. Penman has once again brought medieval life alive.
I came across this author through her medieval mysteries which led me to her historical novels - all of which I've enjoyed. With exhaustive research Penman has a knack for vividly bringing these distant past times and historical figures to life. All this without miring down the reader in excessive detail, her novels provide a front row seat to royal traditions, banquets, marriages, power-plays and battles; the characters very human and well developed. And though the books are lengthy in pages they're still very engaging reads.
Penman's latest series is on the life and times of King Henry II, (1133-1189), his Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine - both larger than life even in their own time - and their "brood", including Hal and Richard the Lionheart. The first book, When Christ and His Saints Slept, chronicled Henry's childhood and his mother's, Maude, fight to regain the British throne for her son. Ultimately successful, Henry becomes king and marries Eleanor. In Time And Chance, Henry battles the Catholic Church - specifically in the person of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury - with a not so good ending for Becket. Not an idle king, he and Eleanor bring eight children into the world.
Devil's Brood opens just after Becket's demise, with Henry and Eleanor estranged, and their boys becoming men. Henry quickly patches things up with Church - a seemingly impossible task - yet he can't get things right in his own royal household. Eleanor, miffed with Henry taking a very young mistress, continues on a slow boil, firmly believing that her husband and king is slighting her at every opportunity when it comes to the respect, power and lands she feels she deserves. Hal, just coming of age, feels shortchanged because Henry won't hand over the royal reins. And Richard, the apple of his mother's eye, soon makes this a familial troika against the King; Henry perceives there is a "problem" in his inner sanctum, yet is clueless to solve it.
Eleanor comes across as shrewish, always dissatisfied with her husband's actions, accumulating slights like a squirrel does acorns. (Interestingly, she comes across as very similar to Henry's mother in the first book, possibly intentional, but also much like Becket in the second, which may not be.) Prince Hal, attempting to show he's all grown up, proves just the opposite by his actions. And Richard eventually "falls into line" with his mother and brother, teamed against his father.
If this sounds like a soap opera, it is, and a slow motion one at that. The magic of the previous Penman novels doesn't work here. For this reader, the resentments and the plotting became repetitive making the inevitable conclusion anti-climactic. (This may have been part of my problem with this book; I was somewhat familiar with this story.)
At 700+ pages, it's difficult to recommend this novel, even if you are a Penman fan as I am. As a further note, this was originally planned to be a trilogy, which has now grown to one more book and possibly two. Unfortunately after reading Devil's Brood it will take some convincing for me to continue down the road of this saga.
on September 15, 2009
This is the final novel in Penman's trilogy about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and is centered around the implosion of their marriage and the rebellions of their sons. While this book can stand alone I would recommend readers start with "When Christ and His Saints Slept" and then "Time and Chance" to get the full and amazing story. It is a long novel just like her others but it is well worth the read in my opinion. This last installment of this amazing story has everything you could want in a novel: love, hate, betrayal, greed. Let me just say that Penman is an extraordinary writer. I wish all writers could make characters come alive like she does. The political and personal turmoil of this family is as twisted and complicated as any modern government bill but Penman manages to write it in a way that is very easy to understand and fun to read. A big part of this is her ability to make these people that have been dead for hundreds of years come alive on the pages.
This story picks up where the last one left off. Henry has gone to Ireland after Becket's death supposedly to put down rebellions there (though it is most likely to avoid punishment from the Church). Henry and Eleanor's three oldest sons feel like they are of an age where they can handle more power, which their father refuses to give them. They end up in a rebellion against him, aided in part by their mother Eleanor and Louis, the French King. He quells the rebellion and eventually forgives his sons (not a great move on his part) but he can not forgive his wife and he imprisons her (and she stays that way for sixteen years). This should be the end of matters but Henry's sons behave like they don't have a brain in their heads. They scoff at their father's generosity and turn on him again and again. He forgives them again and again (again, not a great move on his part), blindly trusting them and finding all kinds of excuses for their behavior because he does love them. Two of his sons eventually pay the price of their treachery, though not at their father's hands, and one does become king upon Henry's death.
Eleanor certainly comes across differently in this novel than she did in the last one. Yes, she does spend most of this book imprisoned by her husband but (probably because of that) she really grows and matures throughout. She learns, as her arrogant sons never could, the error of her past actions (for the most part) and how they helped cause this rupture of their family. I still like her character here, even though I was mad at her for rebelling in the first place. You can really feel how helpless she feels when she hears of the trouble her sons are causing. The later scenes between her and Henry are quite touching as you can tell that these two very stubborn and prideful people, while not able to say it out loud to each other, realize the errors they've made.
I feel so sorry for Henry through this entire novel. Even though I do get irritated at his stubbornness and his complete blindness when it comes to his sons, I pity him for what happens again and again. It really broke my heart how he kept forgiving those arrogant boys, offered them wonderful things, trusted them, made excuses for them, and they kept turning around and stabbing him in the back. For a man as smart as he was it is amazing that he couldn't see what his sons were really like. He did bring some of it on himself; the crowning of Hal, while he was doing it to make sure what happened to his mother didn't happen to his son, was probably one of the biggest mistakes he ever made. He also was maddeningly stubborn at times but overall I felt like he was trying his hardest to make everything strong and secure for his son.
I did not like any of the sons. None of them. I felt like they were spoiled, arrogant, selfish, and incredibly ungrateful. I wanted to throttle all of them at many, many points throughout the novel. Yes, their father was a stubborn man but they couldn't see that 1, he was doing what he could to make their "empire" strong and stable so they wouldn't have to worry about much when they took the reins, and 2, they'd eventually have control of their lands when their father died. That was the trouble though - they wanted it all and they wanted it NOW. And not only do they stab their father in the back repeatedly, they turn on each other over and over again. They truly seemed as if they were the devil's brood.
Penman has created another wonderful masterpiece here. I would recommend this book, along with all her others, to those that love historical fiction and to those that haven't been bitten by that bug yet, to readers who are quite familiar with this period of history and to those that are not. This book and author are sure to open your eyes and you will probably end up being bitten by that wonderful historical fiction bug along the way.