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Archive: Other Books > When Christ and His Saints Slept - Penman - 4.5 stars

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message 1: by Jgrace (new)

Jgrace | 3058 comments When Christ and His Saints Slept (Henry II & Eleanor of Aquitaine, #1) by Sharon Kay Penman
When Christ and His Saints Slept - Penman
4.5 stars

I enjoy historical fiction. Most of my knowledge of world history begins with an interest generated from a good novel. So my knowledge of this medieval civil war came initially from a fondness for Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael. I knew about Maud and Stephen’s competing claims for the English throne. I knew that Maud was the mother of the second Henry. That was about it. I was not prepared for the feminist slant given to Penman’s massive plotting of this conflict. I wasn’t prepared for the weird way this medieval history would strangely dovetail with the feminist issues in my recent nonfiction reading.

Maud was an empress. She was a queen. She was forced into a bad marriage and not only was she forced to obey her egotistical, self-serving, abusive husband, none of her (ostensibly) loyal Dukes and Barons, really believed that she was capable of ruling a kingdom. Penman captured her angry frustration and poured it into every disastrous decision of Maud’s attempts to reign over England. And then, there was Stephen’s Matilda. The conflict was over. Stephen was a prisoner, under lock and key. So, Queen Matilda gathers the troops, backs Maud into a corner and forces Stephen’s release. (Even though Matilda has serious doubts about her husband’s ability to rule, and even less faith in her son.) It was quite a chess game, if you could overlook the pain and suffering it caused for the powerless innocents caught up in the game.

Penman does not overlook that pain and suffering. She gives Maud, Ranulf, a fictional half-brother. Ranulf connects the story to some of the more down to earth suffering of the common people. He also helped to move the plot along. I was always relieved to see him pop back into the story when I found myself getting lost among the endless battles, similar or duplicated names, and continuously changing loyalties.

The book ends, of course, as the war finally ends, with Maud’s son, Henry II and his Eleanor of Aquitaine. It took me almost 20 years to get around to reading this first book in Penman’s Plantagenet series. I’m very glad that I read it, but I’m not ready to tackle the next one, not yet.


message 2: by Booknblues (new)

Booknblues | 6662 comments Jgrace wrote: "When Christ and His Saints Slept (Henry II & Eleanor of Aquitaine, #1) by Sharon Kay Penman
When Christ and His Saints Slept - Penman
4.5 stars

I enjoy historical fiction. Most of my knowledge of world history begins with an interest ..."


I love Penman and have read everything by her except for a few mysteries.

I'm glad that you liked this.


message 3: by annapi (new)

annapi | 5129 comments Sounds fascinating, but also daunting at 770 pages. I want to read this, but I'm not sure I'm ready to tackle it yet...


message 4: by Olivermagnus (new)

 Olivermagnus (lynda214) | 2307 comments Great review! I absolutely love Sharon K. Penman's historical fiction. If someone pressed me for my "favorite book of all time" I would select The Sunne in Splendour. I hardly ever reread but 2017 is my year to reread her Welsh Princes Trilogy.


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