Customer Review

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cadfael lovers check this out...., June 18, 2000
This review is from: When Christ and His Saints Slept: A Novel (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.
The book switches back and forth between Maude and Stephen, and one can develop sympathies for both but I have and continue to side with Maude. Maude was rightfully the heir to the throne, and it was taken from her by men who did not want to be ruled by a woman. Fortunately, by the time of Queen Elizabeth I this attitude had ameliorated somewhat. Apparently Stephen did not really want to be king, but he let himself be goaded into it which says much about his dissimulation or his weak nature or both. One can sympathize with Stephen not because he is in the right, but because he is portrayed as one who step by step slides down a slippery slope and becomes something alien to himself. If he had understood where he would end up, perhaps he would not have taken the first step.
Maude never regains her throne, but in the end the throne of England is won by her son, Henry II who apparently became a first-class ruler. The book ends as Henry II triumps over Stephen's forces.
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