I have been longing to read The Summer Queen - the beginning to a trilogy dedicated to my favourite female figure of history written by one of the finest writers of historical fiction. As this wonderful novel proves, Eleanor is in safe hands. But it's not just Eleanor (here called Alienor, the name Eleanor would have been known by) who comes alive here, her sister Petronella, Louis of France and the young Henry of Anjou and others all fill the pages with life and colour. A fabulous novel.
The marriage between Alienor and Louis, begun when Alienor was just 13, famously ended in a divorce that shocked Christendom but here we are shown one possible path that led to that split. It isn't just persuasive, it is utterly gripping! Here, Louis changes through the pages as he seeks to reconcile himself and his marriage to God. It is a thoroughly disturbing portrait of a young man who alters almost entirely, leaving his young wife in a perilous psychological and physical position. How Alienor deals with this quite complex behaviour (in France and on crusade) from a man she once could have loved dearly is powerful stuff. Throw in a whole new interpretation of Petronella, an intriguing character here given her due by Elizabeth Chadwick, and you have a novel that you will not want to put down.
It is Alienor who shines throughout The Summer Queen. We are left in no doubt that she would have been seen as someone out of the ordinary and the fact that she was both Duchess of Aquitaine and Queen of France can only have added to the allure of her beauty, wit and intelligence. Above all, though, she is determined and in this she contrasts with her sister, Petronella. Alienor is resolute and focused, one eye turned on Aquitaine, the other turned inwards. Alienor is always, though, a woman of her century and so as The Summer Queen ends and The Winter Crown approaches, young Henry of Anjou stands waiting.
Always superbly written and illuminated by its characters and events, The Summer Queen is a fabulous novel based on the most up-to-date and meticulous research. This is historical fiction at its best and I loved every page of it. I'm very grateful for the review copy - the full review is on For Winter Nights.
The Summer Queen is the first in a planned trilogy based on the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine (or Alienor as she is called here). After the glut of Eleanor novels a couple of years ago, this review is written with the assumption that most readers are familiar with Eleanor's history. This review will discuss those known events freely and might be a bit spoilerish for those new to the period, so consider yourself warned.
Arranged marriages can't have been easy under the best of circumstances, but Louis and Alienor had so many things against them from the get-go: raised to the church until his older brother dies, having to take the throne earlier than expected upon his father's death, political treachery and double dealing, and worst of all everyone waiting and watching for the heir that never arrives (it's all the woman's fault you know). And then something happens that completely changes Louis and he's forever changed and more devoted to the church than before (and not in a good way).
"What she saw now was a querulous man, old before his time, full of righteous anger, his guilt and self-loathing twisting within him, so that all the ills of the world became the sins of the nearest scapegoat."
That return home was compelling stuff. And then we get to the crusade - quite an adventure just getting there, let alone what happened when Alienor wanted to cut ties there and take shelter with Uncle Raymond (no, not that - get your mind out of the gutter!). That Thierry is one nasty eunuch is all I'm saying...
The latter part of the novel revolves around the failed marriage, obtaining the annulment, and of course this:
"The Count of Anjou and his son are come to Paris to discuss the situation..."
Can I say how much a loved the portrayal of Henry? I loved the way he entered the story, and tempted to quote, but it's too much fun to see it for yourself at the proper moment. I loved his vitality and energy, and oh boy did I love it when he sent a letter to Louis announcing the birth of his first son.
I loved the story; I loved the way the author wrote Alienor as a woman of her times instead of a thorough modern independent woman, or a slut in chase of anything in pants. As with all Chadwick novels, there's also the added plus of being sucked into another century with the sights, smells and sounds that wrap up a darn-near perfect reading experience. I couldn't put it down, and very sorry I'm going to have to wait for the next installment.
Many thanks to Ms. Chadwick for an advance copy.
on 2 September 2013
This is the first Elizabeth Chadwick Book I have read and the fact it was the first of a trilogy about Eleanor Of Aquitaine, interested me as I have always admired and respected this lady, who was without doubt an excellent ruler in her own right and held England during the absence of Richard the Lion heart. The story begins with both Eleanor and her sister Petronella as young girls very much at the mercy of others dreams and ambitions. very quickly Eleanor grasps the reality of the situation and realises she can do no other than grasp her destiny with both hands whilst keeping a watchful eye on Petronella, who very much resembled their grandmother. Elizabeth Chadwick clearly shows a very keen and detail eye on the events, meeting Louie of France marrying him, beginning her personal rule as Duchess of Aquitaine and Queen of France , accompanying him to the Holy Land and the adventures she had . I was very intrigued to read this and could not put it down as it is written with clarity facts and humour, the essence of Eleanor herself, a beautifully blended beginning o f the trilogy, ending up with the divorce of Louie an s meeting and marrying Henry of Anjou, becoming Queen of England. my only regret is I have to wait for the second book, The winter Crown, which picks off where The Summer Queen ends. I have just bought Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick and will be reading it shortly. I like her style of writing. I would most definitely recommend the Summer Queen to lovers of History and in particular hose who like me have an interest, respect and admiration for Queen Eleanor and Duchess of Aquitaine
on 23 June 2013
I often ask myself what drives me to keep reading novels about figures I know so well. I have read numerous biographies on Eleanor of Aquitaine, I have read about her in novels and I have travelled to France and England to walk in her footsteps. I know all of the key points in her life, the known facts, yet I have an insatiable need to get further inside her head. Hence, I have been counting down the days until I could get my hands on The Summer Queen. I had already met Alienor (Eleanor) in Elizabeth's books on William Marshal, so I had a rough idea of what she would be like. None of that could prepare me for meeting the young Alienor. Thirteen years old, orphaned, made a Duchess and then married to the future King of France. Then, within the year, she becomes the Queen of France. I was reaching for the tissues when I had barely begun the book.
I often see the expressions, `fleshing out the history' and `making it real', and they more than apply here. I `felt' so much for Alienor as she learned and adapted to her new position in life, her struggles, her victories, her joy and her sadness. The time and place is also brought vividly to life. You can feel the heaviness from her garments with voluminous sleeves, the tension in the brow from the coronet, you can taste the bread and honey and the exotic delicacies in Jerusalem.
It was wonderfully comforting to get to know better the young self of this woman so often fictionalized, but the main aspect that made me keep turning the pages and burning the midnight oil? The things that I didn't know about Alienor. I can't really elaborate at all, so as not to give away spoilers, but I do know I will be talking privately about this to a great many people. Highly recommended reading for lovers of well researched, well written historical fiction.
Eleanor of Aquitaine (or more correctly Alienor) is one of those fabulous women from history who cry out for good fiction and Elizabeth Chadwick has delivered that in spades with this book. Sticking closely to the known facts about her life, this is a fairly intense interpretation of a career which saw Alienor become in turn the ruling Duchess of Aquitaine, Queen of France and Queen of England. Her transition from young girl grieving the early loss of her father, to determined woman struggling with her uncomfortable first marriage to Louis of France, which included following him on Crusade to the Holy Land, is extremely well imagined.
The author has resisted the temptation to "Hollywood" her work and it is all the better for that. The characters, great and small, are clearly drawn and the intrusive pressure of religious dogma on personal lives is smoothly and meaningfully incorporated into the narrative.
I am delighted with the book, and greatly looking forward to Part 2 of the trilogy. What more can one say except that it's a terrific read and highly recommended to lovers of good historical fiction.
on 5 August 2013
There's a lot of historical fiction of the more romantic sort out there, but not many authors as good as Elizabeth Chadwick. So I was very excited to come across her latest book, only to find that the 'summer queen' was Eleanor of Aquitaine - surely she's been done to death over the years? And I'm still getting over the last novel I read about her, a woeful Alison Weir effort.
But I needn't have worried: Ms Chadwick's Eleanor (or Alienor, as she calls her) is in good hands. Her story has been expertly researched, and credibly and clearly told, with the author making the wise decision to start from the beginning in Aquitaine and the marriage to Louis of France. Not only is this a refreshing change from the usual accounts which start with her fateful meeting with Henry Plantagenet (when she was already in her late 20s), but it lets us get to know and understand her better by putting her into context. And there are some excellent tales to tell, particularly the story of that ill-fated crusade to Antioch, and Louis' descent into religious fervour.
It's up to the historical novelist to work out all the machinations and motivations behind all these long-ago events, of course - no-one kept a journal in the 12th century, unfortunately - and Ms Chadwick gives us a version of history that's full of sense and conviction. Despite her adherence to the Akashic Records (sorry, but oh dear) she doesn't have to resort to witchcraft or ghosts to make her tale a compelling one, either, unlike some authors.
Of course, if you've read it, the elephant in the room is Sharon Penman's monumental series which begins with When Christ and His Saints Slept (Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy 1), and it's impossible not to compare Chadwick's Alienor with Penman's Eleanor. I'll put my hand up and confess to being a big Penman fan, and until now, no-one's even come close (perhaps with the exception of Ariana Franklin, who gives us a wonderful sketch of a very different Eleanor in The Death Maze: Mistress of the Art of Death 2) - but this is as near as it gets.
It's my personal preference for a saga, however, and I would have liked a less skimpy account of some of the events, people and relationships. I'd have liked to have been a bit more emotionally involved, too: Sharon Penman has the knack of creating scenes and characters that are so real they jump off the page, something which this book lacks. But she isn't without her faults, and a lot of readers might prefer the less romanticised version of medieval relationships that Elizabeth Chadwick portrays.
So sometimes it doesn't matter if it's a story that's been told many times: if you do it well enough, it's still a good read. And this is the first of a trilogy (though why isn't it the 'Alienor of Aquitaine Trilogy'?) - finally, something to look forward to!
on 21 November 2014
I have to confess to being disappointed by The Summer Queen, partly because it had had a big build-up from friends. This was a book club choice, and one which I struggled with: at the club discussion there was a lot of talk as to whether it fundamentally appealed to women rather than men. Some of the other club members assured me that they had very much enjoyed others of Elizabeth’s books, so perhaps this was not the best for me to start with.
The Summer Queen follows the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine (Alienor here, a more accurate representation of the name) up to the point where she is about to arrive in England as the new queen of this land. She is already a highly travelled and shrewd ruler of her own territory and others, and the expectation is set in the reader that things are on the up, after some unpleasant experiences in the first part of her life.
However, I found it difficult to enjoy the book. Elizabeth’s research, from the limited quantity of material available, has been thorough, and I understand that where her reconstruction differs from others there are good reasons behind the choice. But I found the writing itself quite formulaic – I had the feeling I was reading more of a Wikipedia article, liberally laced with sex scenes to liven up the narrative.
Elizabeth provides considerable amounts of detailing, but in spite of that I had no real sense of immersion in any particular period. I found myself having to confirm from outside sources that I was actually reading about a time less than a century after the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest. I think this is because of the way in which the inner life of characters is portrayed: Eleanor herself often felt like a modern individual timeslipped into an older period. I found it very hard to have any sympathetic response for Eleanor, despite the several personal tragedies she faced, mainly because the difficulties of an extraordinarily rich and powerful woman don’t have a lot of resonance with me.
Had it not been for the book club I would probably have given up on it well before the end. My initial reaction was quite negative, but a few days reflecting on it has improved this somewhat, mainly because I have come away with more knowledge of the politics of the age. However, still a three star book for me, and I don’t think that I will be looking out for the other books to follow in the trilogy. Clearly many other folk rate it higher than I do, and if you enjoy this period of history it is worth a look. I trust the judgment of my fellow book club members and would happily try another of Elizabeth’s books, in one of her several other series.
Elizabeth Chadwick's version of the first part of Eleanor of Aquitaine's story is an excellent historical novel. Eleanor is a fascinating figure who inherits Aquitaine on the death of her father and has to marry the king of France as a way of protecting her inheritance. As the story of the increasingly unhappy marriage unfolds, we become increasingly aware of the restrictions on Eleanor but also Chadwick gives us scope to admire her for the fact that she seeks to lead a fulfilling life. Certainly there are adventures aplenty here - some of which are matters of historical record (Eleanor did indeed join her husband to go on a crusade), but also matters for speculation such as some of Eleanor's love affairs. This is a splendid rendition of the life of a real person. We get a real sense of Eleanor's love and longing for Aquitaine, of first her love and then her frustrations with her husband and with her life as queen of France. I'm delighted that it is just the first part of a trilogy. Although quite a long book, it was a page-turning read. If you enjoy Philippa Gregory's novels, then this is worth a look and for another version of Eleanor's story, see also Anne O'Brien's "Devil's Consort". I'm looking forward to reading the second instalment soon.
on 19 January 2014
Elizabeth Chadwick's The Summer Queen is the first in a planned trilogy on Alienor of Aquitaine (popularly known as Eleanor), and having just finished it, I can hardly contain my enthusiasm for this novel. I always love Chadwick's books, but I sort of wondered what else could be added to the story to make it more engaging. It's my pleasure to say that not only does this novel deliver, it does so beautifully, bringing life to characters and events in vivid detail. I'm blown away.
The Summer Queen takes us through the years Alienor was married to Louis of France and into the first blush of her marriage with Henry of England. Alienor, duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, finds herself continually putting her own feelings and needs aside as her overly pious first husband disappoints her again and again. Chadwick takes us through it all: the births of unwelcome daughters, the arduous Crusade, the loss of freedom, and the desperation to end an untenable marriage. Alienor often follows her heart, and she's not written as a saint by any means. What does come through is her indomitable spirit and her determination to protect and advance Aquitaine at any cost. It's evident that Alienor is a passionate woman strapped to a man who becomes more priggish and overbearing as the years pass, and it's easy to see how she felt when first encountering young Henry, the polar opposite of puckered Louis. Part of me wanted to yell at her, to warn her of what's ahead, but most of me just wanted to luxuriate alongside her while she's enjoying herself.
There simply aren't enough words for me to express how much I enjoyed this novel; knowing it would be good because it was by Chadwick, I had no idea I'd become thoroughly engrossed as I was. I even found myself slowing down in my reading just so I could spend more time inside the world brought to life. Alienor's motivations for her actions and her strongly held emotions are vibrantly brought to life against a background where the Church was all and women were expected to do as they were told. If it's possible, Alienor is even more of a personal heroine for me now after having read Chadwick's excellent novel. Highly recommended.
on 13 May 2015
An interesting blend of faction. Its a dense tale rich with detail that at time became a tad tedious. The proliferation of names, for me sometimes became confusing and a glossary + a cast of characters would have been helpful.
On a historical note without being geeky or nerdy there were a few minor mistakes, not in the events or characters but in terms that did not come into usage until later in the Middle Ages. Hence the 4 stars. This has been my first Elizabeth Chadwick novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it and it won't be my last....If you like history, this is told from a feminine view point, which indicates women were as powerful as men, in many cases, more so.