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When Christ and His Saints Slept: A Novel Paperback – February 6, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Penman's latest historical epic concerns the 12th-century struggle for the English throne between Henry I's daughter Maude and her cousin Stephen of Blois.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

YA?Maude, the daughter of King Henry I of England, is in contention for the English throne with her cousin Stephen, the son of William I. This is a rousing and detailed account of that 12th-century struggle between them; both held valid claims and had shifting supporters. This 20-year controversy was much like a civil war, with such loss and pain that the period was characterized by a contemporary chronicle as a time of great wretchedness "when Christ and His Saints slept." The events of this period were dramatic and ironic and carry the plot at a hectic pace. The cast of characters is lengthy, but well defined. The fictional principal, Ranulf, is a young nobleman, a squire pledged to Maude's cause. He is introduced as a teenager and both Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine are seen in appealing youth. There are battles, sieges, endless treacheries, and excellent views of primitive and advanced politics, all spiced with a great deal of gallantry, camaraderie, suspense, and sex.?Frances Reiher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (February 6, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345396685
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345396686
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (212 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #172,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am an American of Irish-English-Welsh heritage, and I currently live in New Jersey, although many of my readers imagine I am happily dwelling upon a Welsh mountaintop--but no such luck. I was once a tax lawyer, which I looked upon as penance for my sins. Like most writers, I was born with a love of the written word, although I never expected to be able to support myself as a writer; when you read about starving artists in their garrets, most of them have starving writers as roommates. But I was very lucky and I have been blessed to make my living as a writer for the past twenty-seven years or so. All of my novels--eleven at last count--are set in the Middle Ages, and focus upon England's most colorful dynasty, the Plantagenets. It is almost as if they lived their dramatic and often wildly improbable lives with future historical novelists in mind, and I am very grateful to them--especially to the Angevins,Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and their equally famous children, known to their contemporaries as the Devil's Brood.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

395 of 398 people found the following review helpful By Richard R. Carlton on July 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
Penman emerged long ago as one of the best historical novelists and continues to solidify her reputation with each new release. Her special genius lies in the bright and shining historical detail that she can weave into both plot and dialog (she's a very good student of history and at times is absolutely brilliant in conveying to us the workings of medieval minds).
Chronologically, this is the first book. It's also the first in the Henry & Eleanor trilogy (the others are Space & Time and Devil's Brood).
There is no doubt When Christ And His Saints Slept will stand as a superior work for ages to come. There is certainly a very complex plot (because this era of English history was quite convoluted). Penman does an excellent job of keeping it all straight for us as she leads us through the maze of characters. Yes, it's complicated but if you read the history of these times you quickly come to see what a great job she did in her design of the story.
There are touching moments (everybody seems to remember her scene of Henry meeting Eleanor in the garden of the Cite Palace) and Penman is great at establishing dynamic moments for a wide range of events (the deaths of Kings, Maude & Eleanor's machinations, etc.). But the true genius is the broad historical scope that is painted on top of the shimmering details of brief moments. It truely does feel as if you are living the story yourself, and it is this bringing us readers in as witnesses that stands as Penman's contribution to the art of the historical novel.
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83 of 83 people found the following review helpful By L. Mountford TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 23, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've long been interested in the period of history from the fall of the Roman Empire to Elizabeth I of England. Most of my reading about this period has been non-fiction until now. I usually find most historical fiction takes too many liberties with the facts and/or deteriorates into the "bodice-ripper" genre all too common when historical fact is scarce.
Ms. Penman's work is, therefore, a pleasant surprise. She sticks to the facts where it matters. She introduces fictional characters as *observers* to the action (as in the character of Ranulf, purported to be one of Henry I's many illegitmate children), rather than active participants who could change the course of history. Where these fictionalized characters were involved in action, it was always along side one of the non-fictional participants, as a "witness." Penman is very careful not to let her fictional characters do too much. Seeing the long civil war through Ranulf's eyes made it seem very personal, and revealed what was probably the real human cost of the bloody and largely unnecessary conflict. It is a device used also by Edward Rutherfurd in _Sarum_ (his description of the of the plague and its contagious consequences from the perspective of the rat is brilliant).
I felt that I was looking at a sort of historical "connect the dots" -- there exists some documentation about this period, but there are gaps. Penman has adeptly connected the the known factual battles, seiges, etc. with fictionalized-but-plausible minor events dealing with day-to-day life.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Tigger VINE VOICE on October 13, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Anyone who loves historical fiction knows how difficult it can be to find a writer who remains historically accurate while at the same time using creative license to flesh out the characters. Sharon Kay Penman does this wonderfully. At the end of the story, she goes into detail and explains exactly where she's taken that creative license, so the reader can separate fact from fiction. I've enjoyed every page of this lengthy saga about the battle between Stephen and Maude for the throne. I read somewhere that this book was the first in a trilogy to be written about the Plantaganet dynasty, and I'm eagerly looking forward to reading more. I'll read anything this woman writes!
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Dianne Foster HALL OF FAME on June 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
Because "When Christ and His Saints Slept" is a work of fiction, some history lovers interested in Henry II might find it unacceptable. I like historical fiction as well as the "real" stuff, and I wanted to know more about Queen Maude--Henry II's mother so I read this book. Penman is a good historian, and what makes her book fiction is not that she alters fact, but that she literally puts words in people's mouths that they may or may not have said.
If you like historical fiction because of a love story angle, this book may prove a bit disappointing. On the other hand, the verismilitude of the life of the times (cold castles, dirt, poor food) is more real than any history could make it. One can say, "they ate poorly" or one can describe in detail the quality and kind of the food eaten as well as the dining actors. Also, we really don't know what peole said in private moments and thought when riding on horseback alone. Penman speculates and builds her speculation on the information at hand.
This book provides excellent background for Ellis Peters' fans. Here, you can actually obtain an idea of what's going on between Maude and Stephen through the course of Peters' 20 Brother Cadfael mysteries, as first one then another of the royal sides sweeps through Shrewsbury. You can also understand why Cadfael (Peters aka Pargeter-her real name) remains neutral. I found it rather amusing that at one point in Penman's book a character traveling in the vicinity and seeking medical aid for a wounded comrade mentions a certain 'brother' in the Shrewsbury abby of Saints Peter and Paul who is known for his healing skills.
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