December 27, 2008

A NEW ONE IS ALWAYS GOOD NEWS:

REVIEW: of Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman (Carrie Uffindell, Powells.com)

Devil's Brood opens two years after Time and Chance ends, in 1172 AD. While Henry is still a powerful king in his prime, he continues to struggle with the ramifications of Becket's death. However, it is not Becket's death that will define Henry's later years, but his own personal failings with his family. Chafing under their father's tight control and aided by their mother, Henry's eldest three sons rebel against him. The betrayal sends Henry into a tailspin and his harsh reaction delivers a blow from which the family never recovers.

Writing about such well-documented historical people and events is no small feat, but Penman handles it masterfully. She breathes life and purpose into these long-dead men and women whose actions shaped Europe's Middle Ages, giving attention even to those who are now just names filling contemporary annuals and chronicles. Her portrayals of Henry, Eleanor, the French kings, and their royal progeny are thoughtful, complex, and compassionate.

For some readers, Devil's Brood calls to mind James Goldman's play The Lion in Winter that revolves around a dramatic (yet fictional) Christmas court in which Henry, Eleanor, and their sons bicker, plot, and attempt to seduce one another. (It was made into a wonderful movie starring Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn.) While some similarities are to be expected, Penman's historical accuracy and understanding of medieval culture is far superior, especially in regards to Richard's sexuality, Henry's affair with Princess Alys, and John's character.



Posted by Orrin Judd at December 27, 2008 7:26 AM
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