Monday, January 05, 2009

Book Review: Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood is the third book in a series written by Sharon Kay Penman about the Angevins: King Henry II of England and his Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. I loved the first two books, When Christ and All His Saints Slept and Time and Chance and so I ordered it as soon as it was published.

And Devil's Brood does not disappoint! Penman focuses on the sons of Henry and Eleanor and their rebellions against his father. Although Henry and Eleanor were once the most celebrated lovers of the European medieval period, Eleanor sided with her sons in their rebellion. This led to the destruction of their marriage and her 16 year captivity by her husband. Truly the Angevins took dysfunctionality to a different dimension!

Penman's historical fiction is true to historical fact. She took 6 years to write Devil's Brood as she carefully researched the events and people depicted in the book. The interpretations, of course, are hers, and in the author's note (and on her website) she explains where she took artistic liberties in her writing.

One of the best aspects of the book is that Penman does not depict any of the major characters as villains or angels. Henry, Eleanor, their sons and other prominent figures in the story are portrayed sympathetically with equal attention given to their virtues and their shortcomings.

The book is a long one--752 pages. If I'd had my Kindle before Christmas, I could have downloaded it, saving both money and the weight of the book!It ends with the death of Henry and the ascension of his son Richard ("the Lionheart") to the English throne. Richard promptly releases his mother from captivity and names her his regent because he is preparing to lead a Crusade to the Holy Land. Penman is now writing a sequel focusing on Richard's reign. I hope I don't have to wait another 6 years to read it!

Devil's Brood is excellent--one of the best works of historical fiction I have ever read. You don't have to be familiar with the previous two books or the historical period to enjoy it, but you'll probably find yourself wanting to read the other two after you finish it. I highly recommend this book for English history buffs and fans of historical fiction in general.

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