Nenia Campbell's Reviews > Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine

Captive Queen by Alison Weir
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's review
Sep 04, 14

bookshelves: tudors-and-plantagenets, court-intrigue, medieval
Read from September 03 to 09, 2012

Captive Queen takes place in the twelfth century and chronicles the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine, in the middle of her life, when she first meets Henry of Anjou. Thirty-year-old Eleanor is not happy with her ascetic husband, Louis, who is incapable of meeting her sexual demands and whose plain lifestyle bores her, and whose treatment of her native Aquitaine brings her pain. She falls in love with Henry immediately, who is eighteen, in the prime of his life, and more than happy to do what Louis cannot. Eleanor contrives to get an annulment of her marriage with Louis and the new couple are presently bedded and wedded (in that order, precisely).

So why didn't I love this book? I'm not entirely sure. I was certainly all set to. Pretty cover aside, Eleanor really is a fascinating historical figure. She was a woman years ahead of her times, who was not content to be ruled by a man. The sad thing is, because she was a woman, what she wanted really didn't matter - queen or no - and her headstrong nature only served to infuriate the men she was married to. Her convoluted story, beginning at fifteen with her marriage to Louis, her marriage to Henry at thirty, the birth of her many children, the rise and fall of Thomas Becket in her husband's good graces, and her ultimate imprisonment, are all absolutely fascinating, and on par with the insidious Borgias, the cold Medicis, and the crazy Tudors. By all rights, my reaction should have looked like this:

There were several things about Captive Queen that really put me off. They were apparent from the beginning but gradually worsened, to the point that the story I would have awarded a 3 or a 4 was quickly becoming at most a 2.

1. The writing is very chunky. There is almost no white space on the page. AND THERE IS SO MUCH OF IT. Eleanor's life is really too long and eventful to be chronicled in one mere volume, and the author's frequent skipping around through time was confusing. It would have been far better for her to make this a series. Or, failing that, simply the story to such an extent that it is a constant, but sparse, narrative, like E.L. Konigsberg's A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver (one of my favorite stories about Eleanor of Aquitaine).

2. The constant, constant, constant sex. Quite honestly, this took up much of the narrative in the first fourth of the book, and the language was always the same. Henry is always mounting and thrusting and admiring Eleanor's (or whomever he happens to be doing's) bosoms, shapely figure, etc. I get the point of showing their passion, but was all this repetition reallllly necessary to the plot? Reallllly?

3. The portrayal of Eleanor as a victim bothered me. I mean, yeah, OK, her lot sucked. But she was powerful. Captive Queen made her seem like a slutty, whiny, greedy baby-machine, and she really wasn't like that at all.

4. Henry is domineering and often cruel. When a village, for example, fails to bring what he deems proper dinings for royalty, he orders them to tear down their prized defensive walls, one stone at a time. He cheats on Eleanor with countless women, sowing bastards left and right, even forcing Eleanor to bring up one of them in her own household as if it were her own. He takes a fourteen-year-old mistress, and when she dies shortly afterwards of untreated breast cancer, he begins sleeping with his middle son's thirteen-year-old betrothed .

It was all very squicky.

I was very disappointed by this book.

1.5 to 2 stars.
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Reading Progress

09/03/2012 page 32
09/03/2012 page 42
9.0% "Henry Anjou is a bad, bad boy.

09/08/2012 page 139
29.0% "Oh Thomas Beckett, you manipulative fiend!"
09/09/2012 page 238
50.0% "

09/09/2012 page 306
64.0% ""
09/09/2012 page 401
84.0% ""
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