Saturday, May 15, 2010

"The Queen's Pawn" by Christy English

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I was delighted when I was given an opportunity to read and review this book!  Because there is such a dearth of information about Eleanor of Aquitaine I especially enjoy books that delve into what her life's story might have been. The additional high point of this book  is that it includes the story of Princess Alais (the 'pawn'), daughter of King Louis of France (who was also Eleanor's first husband) by a previous marriage. Alais is seldom a character in books since even less is known about her life than about Eleanor's.

Ms. English has done a stellar job at recreating a part of Eleanor's life - after she left King Louis and was married to King Henry.  Princess Alais was betrothed to Eleanor and Henry's oldest son Richard and she was sent to England to be brought up in the ways of the English Court prior to her marriage. She falls in love with her intended but feels betrayed when she discovers him in a compromising position with one of Eleanor's maids-of-honor. Ultimately Alias comes to feel betrayed by not only her fiance but also by Eleanor - who had adopted her as a daughter and who had loved her far beyond her role as a soon-to-be mother-in-law.

Alais soon seduces King Henry becoming his lover -  unseating even the powerful Rosamund Clifford in Henry's affections. This, then, is her revenge against Richard and Eleanor. Fast forward to a time when Eleanor has crafted a plan to have her three sons,Geoffrey, Henry and Richard to rebel against King Henry. Alais and Henry's relationship had become more tepid in the two years that they have been together. Alais, heavily pregnant with their child learns that Henry is about to move against Richard whom Alais still secretly loves. Rushing to Eleanor's rooms (where Richard , conveniently, is talking with his mother). Alais warns them of Henry's planned attack - thus saving Richard and returning to her long missed place in Eleanor's affections. Henry banishes Eleanor and holds her in various castles in the ensuing years while Alais is banished to a convent after miscarrying a daughter that she named Rose. The final chapters of the book deal with the time after Alis and Eleanor are effectively imprisoned - and the, after the death of Henry when they are both released by Richard. Richard ultimately marries  Berengaria of Navarre and what happens to Princess Alais is lost to the  annals of unrecorded history. It is thought that she perhaps returned to France.

This book is a wonderful, well-researched look at life in a 13th century castle. The every day comes alive with well crafted, well researched glimpses at what a meal in the great hall would have been like - or what a solar or bed chamber might have looked like. Christy English also offers a concise history of the true facts at the end of the book, which I appreciated very much - it allows some perspective and also reveals how closely she did follow the true facts as far as possible. This book really allows the reader to escape into another world and that, to my way of thinking, is the mark of a really good read. I am looking forward to Ms. English's next book with eager anticipation!

Note: This book was provided to me for the purpose of review only. No other remunerations was received


Marg said...

I love reading about Eleanor, so I am hoping to get to this one soon.

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