The War of the Roses by Dan Jones is a narrative of the titular wars, a notoriously confusing period of British history. All of the participants have sThe War of the Roses by Dan Jones is a narrative of the titular wars, a notoriously confusing period of British history. All of the participants have similar names. Most men are named Richard, Edward, or Henry, when they aren't referred to by their title. (I kept getting "Stafford" and "Suffolk" confused). And, of course, all these Richards, Edwards, and Henrys are all first, second, third, or fourth cousins of one another. Or they are in-laws of each other. Or both cousins AND in-laws. Their fathers and sons are all Richards, Edwards and Henrys too, when THEY aren't being referred to by title. And all of these players have their own motivations, loyalties, factions, agendas, schemes, back stories, and/or personal problems to keep track of - all of which are necessary to understand what is going on. The author tries to keep everything straight, explain who everyone is, and relate what exactly happens. It's a admirable, almost Herculean effort, and he generally succeeds. For the most part, I found it very readable, if a bit dry at times. The different historical figures are not given a whole lot of personality. There is not much discussion or depth of, for an example, how did Henry VI go so wrong? Or what was Richard III thinking, exactly? The author steers clear of any such speculation, which is a dangerous slope for a historian climb, as interesting as it may be.
All in all, it was a pretty good overview. ...more
The Revolt of the Eaglets is a direct sequel to Jean Plaidy's The Plantagenet Prelude. This 1977 entry was part of her never-ending quest to fictionalThe Revolt of the Eaglets is a direct sequel to Jean Plaidy's The Plantagenet Prelude. This 1977 entry was part of her never-ending quest to fictionalize each and every aspect of British history. This novel picks up just after the end of the last one. Thomas a Becket has just been murdered and the marriage of King Henry and Queen Eleanor has fallen apart.
Whereas the previous book was very much Eleanor's story, the Revolt of the Eaglet's is told mostly from Henry's perspective, although various chapters are told from the eyes of other characters from Eleanor, to young Henry, to King Louis of France. Even Berengaria gets a chapter, though this seems to be more of setting up things to come than anything to do with this book.
The prose is straightforward, perhaps a little too straightforward. Many chapters run along the lines of this happened, then this happened, and this is how Henry felt about it. Then this happened. There is quite a bit of repetition. Repetition can be an effective literary technique, but in this instance I found it a bit tiresome. How many times can Henry wish for loving sons? How many times can someone call King Louis a monk? The same points are hit over and over again with the regularity of a hammer.
None of the characters are all that likable, which is somewhat unusual for this author, I find. Her usual tactic is to pick something that the historical personage did NOT get, and make that the one thing they long for above all else, thus creating sympathy. For example, the historical Queen Adelaide did not have any living children. In Plaidy's Victoria in the Wings, what the character of Queen Adelaide wishes for more than anything else is to be a mother. She is doomed by history to be forever unfulfilled.
In this instance, King Henry longs for loving sons above all else, and gets rebels instead. This, however, does not make him sympathetic. Henry continues to be, in Plaidy's depiction, a despicable human being. He is selfish, self-centered, seduces a child, and is really, really whiny. Eleanor is also annoying, but since she spends most of the novel in captivity, her negative traits don't register as much. King Louis continues to be the most likable character. He tries so hard to be a good man and a good king, yet it is never really successful. The cumulative effect is kind of unpleasant.
Nevertheless, this is good read for those seeking a straightforward, matter-of-fact fictional version of early Plantagenet history.
Catherine, Called Birdy, is a Newbery Award winning book set in the English Middle Ages. It is the purported diary of the titular character (fortunate Catherine, Called Birdy, is a Newbery Award winning book set in the English Middle Ages. It is the purported diary of the titular character (fortunately literate), the daughter (about 12) of a very minor noble. The diary covers the course of a year as we learn about Birdy’s everyday life, her hopes and fears and her plots to avoid marriage to undesirable men. Birdy is a good character. Sometimes she’s thoughtful; sometimes she’s good. Sometimes she’s bratty because of the unendurable pressures she faces. Sometimes she’s bratty for no reason at all.
The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cromwell is set in Britain, pre-Norman invasion. It begins with the childhood of Uhtred, a young Saxon noble captured andThe Last Kingdom by Bernard Cromwell is set in Britain, pre-Norman invasion. It begins with the childhood of Uhtred, a young Saxon noble captured and raised by the Danish invaders who murdered his father and brother. The youngster grows to enjoy his new, more violent life and despise his origins, even after he is eventually “rescued.”
This novel is very well written, certainly. The setting was interesting and the portrayal of Alfred the Great intriguing. However, I did not enjoy it much. The story is told through Uhtred’s eyes and he is arrogant, self-centered, very cynical, and unlikeable. Maybe this is a stylistic choice, one that paves the way for growth in the sequels, but I didn’t care about him enough to find out. ...more
Captive Queen by Alison Weiss treads familiar ground. This oft-told tale is a popular mine for historical fiction. Jean Plaidy, Sharon Kay Penman, andCaptive Queen by Alison Weiss treads familiar ground. This oft-told tale is a popular mine for historical fiction. Jean Plaidy, Sharon Kay Penman, and many other lady authors have fallen for this melodramatic true tale of lust, love, and betrayal. It tells the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who divorces her first husband (the king of France) to marry Henry (king of England). It tells of their many children and their tragic estrangement.
Once again, it’s the same story with the same characterizations and the same modern interpretation of historical events. King Louis is an unsatisfying wimp so she leaves him for hot Henry and they enjoy each other in graphic detail. Henry, being a man, keeps her submissive and cheats, so Eleanor rebels because she is a strong woman. Henry retaliates by locking her away. Henry eventually dies and the children fight over their inheritance. This version involves painting Eleanor as a heartbroken mother and Thomas á Becket as a jealous drama-queen.
For readers who are not well acquainted with the period Captive Queen would be a good introduction, as long as they don’t mistake it for actual history. ...more
I do not know whether or not I liked The Sword in the Stone. For that matter, I'm not quite sure I like the entire Arthurian canon. On the one hand thI do not know whether or not I liked The Sword in the Stone. For that matter, I'm not quite sure I like the entire Arthurian canon. On the one hand there are duels, quests, lady fairs, and chivalric adventure. On the other hand there is the detestable Guinevere, despicable Lancelot, and eye-rollingly tragic ending. In any case, The Sword in the Stone happens before everything went gloomy, so I thought I'd give it a try.
The Sword in the Stone, part one of The Once and Future King, is a novella concerning the education of a young Arthur, growing up with kindly Sir Ector. The plot is episodic in nature, as Merlin tutors the future king by turning into various kinds of animals. There is also a boar fight, and an adventure with Robin Wood (not Hood).
The characters are decent, if a bit stereotyped, and serve the story well. Merlin is, like Willy Wonka, an eccentric kook. He exists mainly to crack jokes about the future and whisk young Wart away on fantastical adventures. Wart is curious, polite, helpful, deferential young boy, much like those "Gee Whiz" kids on Mr. Wizard, and about as interesting.
Kay is slightly more realistic. He is something of a bully, but not really a bad sort - just insecure and spoiled. He likes to tease and disparage his foster brother, but deep down is quite fond of him. Sir Ector is a caricature of an illiterate, good-hearted country squire. He blusters on about his boys' "eddication," and has never been to London, yet is a generous host, good father, and takes care of his peasants (Incidentally, feudalism is grossly romanticized, just in case you are bothered by that sort of thing).
My personal favorite was Robin Wood (not Hood), but then, I'm partial to him anyway.
The Sword in the Stone is set in a mishmash of the post-Norman era, fairy tale land, and eighteenth century Britain. Sir Ector lives next to the Forest Sauvage, which contains dragons, fairies, and witches. Then again, there are also references to Saxon rebels, 1066, and the Tower of London. This is not meant as a serious Arthurian tale.
The narration is half joking and half whimsical. As the jacket says, it is a story of "beasts who talk and men who fly." It also contains pot-shots at communism. The language is decidedly contemporary and the humor very British.
Though not exactly to my taste, The Sword in the Stone is a decent book and should please certain audiences. ...more
Set in the reign of Henry III, the Green Branch is a sequel to The Heaven Tree. The last book ended with gifted mason Harry Talvace being executed bySet in the reign of Henry III, the Green Branch is a sequel to The Heaven Tree. The last book ended with gifted mason Harry Talvace being executed by Sir Ralf Isambard, while his family escaped over the border into Wales. Now Harry's son (also named Harry) has grown up under the protection of Prince Llewellyn and he has vowed vengeance. Harry attempts his revenge on Isambard, helped and hindered by Welsh border politics and the twisted character of Isambard himself.
The novel falls into roughly two halves, with the first detailing the situation in Wales and the second following Harry and Isambard's interactions.
Pargeter mixes some of her favorite historical personage (notably, the Welsh royal family) with the fictional Harry, who is hotheaded, naive, and likable. Ralf Isambard is a fascinating villain. His motives are remarkably unclear. He is always one step ahead of Harry, always knows what buttons to push, always the master of the situation.
Pargeter has a drier, less emotional, less soapy feel than many other authors who write in the same era (Penman, I'm looking at you), which may make her prose slow going for some. There is a refreshing lack of angst.
As is usual, Parteger's creates a wholly believable medieval world, whose inhabitants act thoroughly of their age and time, and yet whose motives and feelings are easily understood by a modern reader. I enjoyed it very much and am eager to read the follow-up. ...more
The Plantagenet Prelude by Jean Plaidy is the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine. It begins with her as a 15-year-old girl, a wealthy heiress who is “ripeThe Plantagenet Prelude by Jean Plaidy is the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine. It begins with her as a 15-year-old girl, a wealthy heiress who is “ripe for marriage.” She marries the gentle, pious, naïve King Louis of France and they have two daughters. Yet Louis does not satisfy the passionate Eleanor. So she haves affairs with her uncle and an infidel. Then she meets the future King Henry of England, falls in love, divorces Louis and marries Henry. Their marriage creates a powerful empire and many children, but it falls apart because Henry cheats on her.
There are many versions of this tale by many modern lady-authors. I have read this story a half-dozen times, by such other authors as Alison Weir and Sharon Kay Penman. They are all very similar.
This version of Eleanor’s story is older than the others, so includes less sweaty details and takes a sterner line with the heroine. Plaidy’s Queen Eleanor is a selfish lady, crueler and shallower than her more modern incarnations. Henry is still a jerk, but Eleanor also reaps what she sows. Louis is more sympathetic, and Thomas a Becket is his traditional, saintly, noble figure.
The Plantagenet Prelude does not tell Eleanor’s complete story. It cuts off at a turning point – the murder of Thomas a Becket. ...more