Top critical review
The Devil's Brood by Sharon Penman
on 24 October 2013
No-one is better than Penman for bringing history vividly to life. The brutal, alien landscape of the twelfth century has never seemed so real. The hopes, dreams, fears and beliefs which held medieval people in their thrall - alien to us - are captured brilliantly in the pages of a Penman novel.
Devil's Brood tells the story of the aging King Henry II through the latter years of his reign.
The most powerful ruler in Christendom, Henry - a classic tragic hero - is doomed to fall when his four discontented sons - the Devil's Brood of the title - turn against him. Such wonderful characters - the irresponsible heir, Hal, humorless, bloodthirsty Richard, Geoffrey - scheming, clever and calculating - and the silent Johnny whom everyone overlooks. And what of Henry's formidable wife Eleanor of Aquitaine? Who will she side with - unfaithful husband or ambitious sons? The Windsors, with their sordid infighting, could learn a thing or two from their Plantagenet forebears!
The book has too many flaws to be worth more than three stars: far too many minor characters, unnecessary backstory and overly detailed and repetitive. I also felt it lacked the passion of Penman's greatest novels, so not her best by any means. But a decent read nevertheless. I particularly applaud the way Penman has shattered the many myths surrounding Henry and Eleanor - these are very, very different characters from the ones you usually meet in film and book. They're almost cuddly!