The Sunne in Splendour
confirmed Sharon Kay Penman's place in the upper echelons of historical fiction, combining a breathtaking panoply of the past with an acute psychological observation of her characters. Time and Chance
is the second part of her planned trilogy about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, beginning in the glory years of their reign. Penman conjures for us an astonishing era in which Henry battles with the Welsh and the French king, appoints Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury, and, by taking a mistress, makes a bitter enemy of his wife.
Readers know the scalpel-like precision of Penman's character building from her earlier work, and the emotional lives of Henry and the troubled Eleanor are powerfully realized. As in the first book of the sequence, When Christ and His Saints Slept, conflict is ever the driving force. Henry and Eleanor's remarkable partnership was proving highly fecund, both politically, and physically, as Eleanor gave birth to five sons and three daughters, laying to rest her reputation as a barren queen and founding a dynasty that was to last three centuries. But auguries of trouble ahead were apparent: war with the Welsh; acrimonious battles with Eleanor's first husband, King Louis VII of France. But the truly destabilizing factor was Henry's decision to appoint his friend and confidant Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry had assumed that the worldly, ambitious Becket would be the perfect ally, and was devastated when the new archbishop cast off his own worldly past as he embraced his role as Defender of the Faith, swapping dissolution for piety.
As Penman vividly demonstrates, Henry saw Becket's action as a humiliating betrayal. One of the most famous murders in history followed, with further conflict in the kingdom caused by Henry's liaison with the daughter of a baron. In bedding Rosamund Clifford, Henry put his marriage and even his kingship at risk. As always, Penman handles her research lightly; the personal drama is the engine of her narrative, with each fresh scandal and intrigue delivered with a beguiling combination of relish and restraint. She is assured in her detailing of the political and ecclesiastical clashes of the court, but it is Henry II who strides her novel like a colossus--just as he did the kingdom he ruled. --Barry Forshaw, Amazon.co.uk
From Publishers Weekly
When Christ and His Saints Slept was Penman's popular account of the 12th-century struggle for England's throne. This book, the second of a planned trilogy, begins after Henry II has inherited the crown and married Eleanor of Aquitaine a mature beauty and a wealthy ruler in her own right. Henry II is a confident leader, but he is also wise enough to appreciate his politically astute wife. His only other trusted adviser is Thomas Becket. Diplomatic and suave, Becket is the perfect complement for a rough-hewn young king. When he makes his chancellor archbishop of Canterbury, Henry believes he is creating an indomitable union of church and state. Becket, however, becomes an adamant protector of ecclesiastical power. The resulting conflict will climax in Becket's murder. In her five previous historical novels, Penman has exhibited a cool, almost academic style balanced by a penetrating sympathy, her fiction adhering faithfully to fact while making the past fully present. She would seem the ideal author to turn these outsized players in a royal drama into real people. Unfortunately, this long-anticipated novel lacks animation. The main characters never come to life, and Becket, in particular, remains a cipher: Penman never ventures inside this saint in the making, nor does she successfully explicate his conversion. She is more confident with her wholly imagined characters, but their vividness only serves to underscore the lifeless quality of the principals, and even the well-defined characters too often indulge in tedious and unbelievable expository monologues. 10-city author tour. (Mar. 4)Forecast: Penman may not attract new fans with this disappointing offering, but the many readers who have been waiting seven years for it to appear will snap it up regardless.
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