This novel, the sequel to When Christ and His Saints Slept, continues the story of Henry II after his accession to the throne of England. Henry and his new wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, seemingly have a charmed life, with all the power and riches they could desire. But their great ambitions come with great costs: Henry is constantly on the battlefield defending his holdings in France and skirmishing for power in Wales, while Eleanor is forced to the sidelines and must undergo the rigors of repeated childbirth. The book tells the story of their tempestuous marriage but also examines another important relationship in Henry’s life — his friendship with his chancellor (and later Archbishop of Canterbury), Thomas Becket.
I read When Christ and His Saints Slept a few years ago, but this book contains enough reminders of past events that I was able to follow along without a problem. Overall I enjoyed this novelization of the birth of the Plantagenet dynasty; it’s what I would term an intelligent romp. Penman does her research, but she also manages to write page-turners that are filled with action, scandal, and intrigue. The parts that focused on Henry’s deteriorating relationship with Thomas Becket were both interesting and frustrating to me. Even though I knew how their argument would end, I found myself hoping against hope that they’d be able to communicate with each other and work things out! As for Henry and Eleanor, I think their story in this book will pale in comparison to the events of the sequel, when their children are all grown up. I will be reading Devil’s Brood this summer, and I’m looking forward to it!