Orsolya's Reviews > Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman
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Nov 12, 2016

it was amazing
bookshelves: medieval-times, historical-fiction, queens, library, eleanor-of-aquitaine
Read from October 22 to November 11, 2016

If Eleanor of Aquitaine’s marriage to King Henry II wasn’t passionate and tumultuous enough; it gets even more spiced up when their sons rebel against their father with Eleanor’s aid resulting in her captivity/house arrest. Sharon Kay Penman leaves the drama of the murder of Thomas Becket behind in “Time and Chance” and follows the family breakdown with the third book revolving around Henry and Eleanor in, “Devil’s Brood”.

“Devil’s Brood” follows familiar ground with the subject of Eleanor and Henry but Penman breaks some ground with her style. “Devil’s Brood” is noticeably the ‘strongest’ after the first two books both in writing and story. Instead of a slow beginning in usual Penman fashion in which she spends too much time setting the scene, establishing characters, and recalling past events; Penman finally jumps right into the story and keeps a steady pace which heightens the emotional accessibility of the story.

“Devil’s Brood” still features a lot of discussing of events versus living them but the share of this is heavily diminished and lessened in comparison to the first two books. Penman’s writing/story is more alive and charged making it a much better read. The characters are also stronger and each stand out on their own feet, especially Eleanor and Henry’s sons who really capture the reader’s attention.

As per usual with Penman, her writing in “Devil’s Brood” often sweeps the literary language landscape and is rich with imagery. However, she truly steps it up with “Devil’s Brood” with some emotionally-packed moments that the reader will genuinely feel in all of its essence and will be left in awe. This carries the story and teaches the history aspect by leaving a strong impact. The great thing is that Penman doesn’t force this and it all flows naturally.

One of the standout features of “Devil’s Brood” is the depiction of the family breakdown and rebellion that takes place. Oftentimes with this subject in both history and historical fiction pieces; Henry is simply washed as the “bad guy”, Eleanor and her sons as the victims, and everything else is black and white. Penman brings the grey matter to light, voices the psychological causes/effects of these events, and doesn’t exaggerate each character’s roles therefore eschewing stereotypes and making “Devil’s Brood” real and relatable.

“Devil’s Brood” does eventually fall into some discord only in the sense that there is so much intrigue and drama between the sons and Henry; that the story becomes slightly muddied and even somewhat tedious and overwhelming. Yet, the angles that Penman spins are fresh and invigorating such as continuing to show Eleanor as a cunning woman not suffering in imprisonment but still helpless to her surrounding situations.

The portrayal of the “Young King” Hal’s death is extremely moving, vivid, and rife with emotion making it a monumental and memorable part of “Devil’s Brood” despite a reader’s personal opinion of Hal. Penman’s writing here is unarguably splendid and top-notch.

The final quarter of “Devil’s Brood” regresses in strength and the story and Penman herself seems to lose some fire. The text feels compressed and tired meanwhile Penman tries too hard to tie loose strings, inform the reader of real historical conclusions, and set up events for the next book. Basically, too much is thrown into little space and thus, it is spread thin. This results in some debasing of “Devil’s Brood” but luckily this doesn’t take away too much from the overall value of the novel.

The final ending, however, is strong emotionally; wrapping up with Eleanor’s point of view and truly bringing her emotion to the reader, therefore leaving a well-enough, memorable note.

Penman supplements “Devil’s Brood” with an ‘Author’s Note’ debunking some classic myths regarding some of the figures in the novel and also explaining some of the minor historical liberties she has taken within her composition.

Despite some flaws and a weak final quarter; “Devil’s Brood” is a nuanced historical fiction piece that stands out against Penman’s first two books on Henry and Eleanor. “Devil’s Brood” is definitely not recommended to be read as a standalone novel but is absolutely riveting in the series. “Devil’s Brood” is a lovely fire lit by Penman.
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Reading Progress

10/22/2016 marked as: to-read
10/22/2016 marked as: currently-reading
11/12/2016 marked as: read
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