134 of 139 people found the following review helpful
on 7 April 2010
Alison Weir has proven once again that her fiction novels are just as wonderful as her non fiction. Her attention to detail and understanding of the historical figures she portrays are excellent.
The Innocent Traitor and The Lady Elizabeth kept me hooked for hours. However I was unsure if The Captive Queen would be as entertaining for me. I've always loved the Tudor period so Weir's new novel was a new experience and period for me.
The story centres around Queen Eleanor and her explosive marriage to Henry Plantagenet. Weir starts by addressing Eleanor's unhappy marriage to King Louis of France, but this is brief. Henry and Eleanor are introduced very quickly and I feel the story really takes off once they are together. Weir captures the lust and passion of the newly formed couple perfectly.
As the story unravels cracks start to appear in the couples relationship. Although I had some understanding of what was going to happen, I found myself wishing that they would stay happy together. Weir has created characters who jump out at you and I loved that about this book.
Weir explores the marriage of Eleanor and Henry from start to finish, covering a long period in history and many key points. The exploration of Becket and the part he had to play in the marriage is interesting and added depth to the story. I particularly enjoyed how his murder was portrayed and the aftermath. I also liked the relationships built between Eleanor and her children. This was vital for the novel to conclude in the way it does.
The final section of the novel was the hardest part for me to read. It was truly awful reading about the break down of the marriage. Weir captures the hatred which has built up gradually throughout the book, into an explosive final.
I have given the story a 4 star rating because Weir has introduced me to a new area of history which was unexplored until now. She has written her own take on two very important figures in our history with attention to detail. The book was easy to read and characters were introduced and weaved through the story carefully. Weir has captured 'the most notoriously vicious marriage in history' into a great novel.
45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on 25 April 2011
I like popular history, especially anything about the Plantagenets, but hadn't ventured into historical fiction until recently, when I picked up Devil's Consort by Anne O'Brien. And it was utter nonsense: just pages and pages of Eleanor of Aquitaine alleviating her sexual frustration by sleeping with various members of her extended family. So I had high hopes of The Captive Queen - I liked Alison Weir's portrayal of Isabella of France but had found it a bit dry, so the expert opinion with added artistic licence sounded good.
Instead, it's just bad sex scenes, strung together with occasional exposition. Meeting Henry, seeing Henry, disagreeing with Henry... everything ends with them having sex. There are idiotic conversations about sovereignty, while they're having sex. We get it: they really, really fancied each other. It adds nothing. The dialogue can't make up its mind whether it's being casually modern or faux-medieval even within scenes, which was jarring, and every rumour about Eleanor and Henry's private lives is thrown in for good measure, as though the author was trying to make it as juicy as possible.
Maybe I'm just not the target audience for this kind of book: I wanted readable realism. Next time I'll pick up a biography, but for the time being, I'm just going to leave poor Eleanor alone.
33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Well, you will need to set aside time to read this novel, that's for sure. It requires your concentration and commitment for 2 or 3 days, if you are really to get into the swing of the narrative. I usually read Tudor novels, so this was new ground for me, but I learned a lot along the way, which, I think, is part of Weir's motive for creating these historical tales which are based on her own meticulous research. So, from the bare bones of the biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the author has created a wonderful portrait of this amazing woman, and her complicated life. Married first to the King of France, after that union is annulled, Eleanor quickly becomes the wife of the charismatic Henry II, a volatile man with an insatiable appetite for women. The book covers all the rest of her life, her many pregnancies, and the decline of her marriage from a passionate, all-consuming love affair to a bitter power struggle which continues for years, with the inheritance of the royal children providing the board for the chess-like game that Henry and Eleanor play with each other.
Loads of historical detail, very convincing character portrayals, and a well-drawn picture of a marriage in tatters make this novel a rewarding read.
The relationships between Eleanor and her many children are particularly well represented, also the passionate nature of the woman and her lust for life. I ended up admiring her greatly, not least because of the huge distances she travelled during her life, constantly moving from England to France, from palace to castle, either on horseback or in a litter. Remember this was the 12th Century, no high speed trains back then. The fact that she survived into her 80s, after 11 pregnancies, is also pretty mind-blowing.
A really well-crafted book, clearly a labour of love. Shocking and moving in places, you will definitely shed some tears along the way.
Finally, I enjoyed the deeper messages within this book - passionate love cannot last, people change over time, the bonds between a mother and her children may vary from one child to another, and forgiveness is always the right choice, because without it, bitterness will eat away at any happiness remaining.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 March 2014
Yes folks, that's about the sum of it. So disappointing, not the hairy thigh but the prose, the dialogue, the whole narrative in fact. I find Alison Weir's non-fiction histories a little dry and mechanical so hoped for more life in the fictional counterpart. Instead it is a tunic-ripper bar none. Eleanor with her cherry-red rosebud lips (what are they for heaven's sake?) is 'sensuous' and 'voluptuous' (yawn) has coppery tresses' which 'cascade down her slender shoulders like orphans down a fire-escape'. Actually, I made that last bit up but you get the picture. Everyone is 'heavy-lidded' (??) with desire whilst breaking off from rampant sex to make wooden comments about the latest political situation. Eleanor wanted to 'crawl into a hole like a badger' - in what sense is Eleanor of Acquitaine like a badger? Anyway, enough, she should stay there.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 10 September 2011
Being only recently introduced to Alison Weir's non-fiction writing - I much enjoyed her book "The Six Wives of Henry VIII", I felt sure that I would also enjoy the historical novels. Anyone that can create such convincing portraits of historical figures must be able to write beautifully, when given more room to use imagination. I made an assumption and that was an error.
I wish that I'd read the reviews here before picking up "The Captive Queen". Within eight pages I was stunned at the lacklustre and repetitive prose, it seemed unbelievable that this was by the same author. The dialogue, what scarce bits there are in the early pages, reads more like a Hollywood version of 12th Century court language. Eleanor's character is immediately set as a sexually frustrated woman who wishes for a good deal more. It's a poor substitute for actual character building even if it is a valid part of her personal life.
The more that I read the more the prose makes it clear that this is not just an historical fiction or a romance; it is bonkbuster territory. With paragraphs of writing that read as this: ".. Henry's appreciative gaze never left Eleanor: his eyes dark with desire, mischievous with intent. Lust knifed through her. She could barely control herself." That hilariously bad paragraph is quickly eclipsed by Eleanor's masturbation scene a few pages later. For the sake of sanity I won't even try and quote from that.
Whilst this kind of writing is perfectly suited to some books, such as Katie Price's oeuvre, it isn't what this writer is known for and does not play to her strengths at all. I'm glad that I did read Alison Weir's non-fiction first. If this had been my initial encounter I would have avoided everything else in the certainty that it was equally ill-written.
It does make me wonder if the point of this was to have the book elbow its way into the bestseller list by including plenty of sex, some fancy costumes and historical settings. If you prefer to have a different style of historical novel then skip past this one as quickly as you can.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 14 February 2013
I tried this as a sample on my Kindle, because I rate Weir as a historian very highly. I didn't bother buying the book.
Basically, I found the style to be everything that's bad about historical fiction. The characters constantly tell each other facts they clearly already know, for the reader's benefit. The sex scenes are so cliche ridden that the effect is comic.
The character portraits have as much psychological depth and insight as a saucy picture postcard. In the case of Eleanor, for instance, she is one moment getting all hot and bothered remembering her physical passion with an ex-lover, when she takes one look at his teenage son and virtually starts wetting herself over him, dad completely forgotten (I actually laughed aloud at that bit). In their first, brief conversation, shortly after, she starts disclosing the kind of personal confidences no Queen would possibly share with a stranger, however much she had the hots for him, unless she was a total moron who'd never realised the meaning of the word, let alone the value of 'discretion' (and Eleanor certainly was not a moron).
I'm sure the research is faultless, but fiction really isn't Weir's forte. Disappointed, to be honest.
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on 5 May 2010
In the words of Dorothy Parker "this book should be hurled with great force across the room"! I have never been so disappointed in a book in my life.
Last year when in France I thought that someone should write a book about the amazing woman that Eleanor of Aquitaine must have been. BUT THIS ISN'T IT!!!
I admittedly only managed a few pages at the beginning but I feel I learned all I needed to know about Eleanor's affair with Geoffrey of Anjou and how they coupled on silken sheets and he brought her to pleasures her husband with his very small member could not (when she was not pleasuring herself that is) and how she first had an affair with one Macabru who first introduced her to her clitoris and taught her to pleasure herself.... get the picture? No - well I will continue ( and remember that we are only at the beginning of this travesty of a book). She is thinking lustfully about Geoffrey until she meets his 18 year old son,Henry (later to be King of England) - whereupon she switches her lustful thoughts to him ... and yup - she pleasures herself again - although later he comes to her (apparently although queen of France she was able to entertain lovers willy-nilly - pun intended), and we are treated to a description of their first coupling and - happily - reassured that he knows about clitorises and can pleasure her appropriately. At this point I was ready to give up in sheer disgusted disbelief, but I thought I'd give it a bit longer, so I read the next two pages... during which I was told that during a hot ride across France Henry and his father decide to have a swim - I'm afraid I collapsed with laughter as Henry eyed his father's enormous manhood, and although out of respect for the property of Durham library I refrained from hurling it across the room, I did lay it aside and reached for something better.
This isn't a book about Eleanor, it is about sex sex and more sex - with wimples. If you like lots of descriptions of sex - read it. If like me you want to read a book about Eleanor of Aquitaine - avoid it like the plague!
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on 14 April 2010
... quite a lot of "buts" actually!
I think the first one is that this is way, way too short a novel to begin to do justice to Eleanor's life, even given that Weir does start when she is thirty, meeting the future Henry II for the first time. Now I know that there is very little actual material directly about Eleanor - as Weir found to her cost when she did an actual biography of Eleanor: Eleanor of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England. But she is right in the middle of an absolute wealth of material about the politics of her day and I frankly don't think a proper job can be done on her without bringing that in, in rather more detail than Weir does here. If you want to read a really good shot at doing that in the form of historical novels, Sharon Penman has got that T-shirt: When Christ and His Saints Slept etc. (admittedly 3 long novels, and ou may feel you don't have the time!)
The second (and this may just be me being tedious) - far too much time on the sex by numbers stuff. That sort of thing will do in any sex'n'shopping novel, but there is so much more that could be done with this book! I felt that Weir's biog was basically an historical novel longing to get out - but I had rather thought that this would enable her to plump for (and explain in terms of character development) particular versions of what Eleanor might have done. Again, I quite see that the evidence (scads of children in very short order going on until Eleanor was on the brink of the menopause, and despite forced separations, and very very bitter break up) indicates that she and Henry had a passionate thing going - but we don't need the diagram at the expense of making the whole thing work and explaining the other big thing they had going - passionate political interests.
I also (despite having chuntered through a few of Weir's books that she should give up on the popular history and start writing historical novels) don't feel Weir is necessarily stylistically at home in the world of the novel. Whereas as a historian you can often sense her immersed in her facts, I don't find her writing here carries a sense of immersion or belief in the characters - and I think (like Tinkerbell) it is hard for characters to really live if their author doesn't believe in them as real people.
So - I guess if you are looking for an engaging picture of Eleanor's life written by someone who has done all the research, this is really good and you will probably like it and find it a good jumping off point for further reading. If you have read/adore Penman or are really quite well read on the subject of Eleanor of Aquitaine I suspect this will just annoy you (unless, like me, you enjoy a good chunter!)
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 7 December 2010
I was so looking forward to reading this as I usually love Alison Weir's work. However, I have to admit that I have had to consign this one, unfinished, to the charity shop due to the unnecessary amount of cringe-making sex. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind historical novels containing graphic sex when it is done well (Norman Mailer's Ancient Evenings, for example) but these sex scenes, which came very early on in The Captive Queen, felt false and not credible and affected my perception of the book so much that I just couldn't finish it. Sorry Alison - I am usually a big fan!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 December 2012
My wife ordered this for a reading group. She persevered for a few days but found it unreadable. The writer intersperses cod medievalisms with inappropriate modernisms; the book should be nominated for the Bad Sex Award; Eleanor of Aquitaine is left as a lusty nympho with "chestnut tresses", not the long-lived and powerful political manipulator she really was. If you want a novel about the past, Hilary Mantel's books are infinitely more fun to read, and are real literature.