Stephen of Blois is born in 1096, a nephew to the English King Henry, the first of that name. In 1120 he boards a ship called "The White Ship", accompanying the heir to the English throne. The ship sinks crossing the English chanel. Everybody on board die. End of story.
But that is not what happened.
Stephen didn't board "The White Ship" that day. He didn't die. And when his uncle the king did, some years later, he took the crown belonging to the king's daughter Maude, for himself. The rightful heir, Maude did not take the news lightly and so began a war that lasted years, a period in England during which, the people insisted, Christ and all his saints slept.
There are a lot of bookwriters in this world. It's one of the reasons the general quality of literature is dropping, I think - one no longer needs an open mind, have original ideas, do long research, learn from mistakes - all one needs is a PR person.
That's why, in the gloom that is world literature, authors like Sharon Kay Penman shine like a bright beacon of hope, a light to stave off despair in readers.
One of the many things that set her apart is the ability to constantly improve her skills - it is but the second book of hers I read and all of the things that bothered me in "The Sunne in Splendour" (the first one she wrote) and all the good things I wanted to see more of - are absent/present in this, the first installment of the Plantagenets series, containing, so far, 4 books*.
Of the things I love best about Penman's writing is her ability to recreate an irresistible sense of time and place, one dives into the book and doesn't emerge until the final page. She writes not about characters, but the life and times of people, even the fictional ones, and the reader has no way of differentiate between fact and fiction.
I heartily recommend this book and this series to anyone who enjoys well written, classic historical fiction.