Friday, January 7, 2011

Book Review: Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman

Synopsis (from   

The long-awaited and highly anticipated final volume in Penman’s trilogy of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine—a tumultuous conclusion to this timeless story of love, power, ambition, and betrayal.

Where the second novel in the trilogy, Time And Chance, dealt with the extraordinary politics of the twelfth century, climaxing with the murder of Thomas Becket and Henry’s confrontation with the Church and self-imposed exile to Ireland, Devil’s Brood centers on the implosion of a family. And because it is a royal family whose domains span the English Channel and whose alliances encompass the Christian world, that collapse will have dire consequences. This is a story of betrayal as Henry’s three eldest sons and his wife enter into a rebellion against him, aligning themselves with his bitterest enemy, King Louis of France. But it is also the story of a great king whose brilliance forged an empire but whose personal blind spots led him into the most serious mistake of his life.

Sharon Kay Penman has created a novel of tremendous power, as two strong-willed, passionate people clash, a family divides, and a marriage ends in all but name. Curiously, it is a novel without villains—only flawed human beings caught up in misperceptions and bad judgment calls. Most devastating to Henry was not his sons’ rebellion but his wife’s betrayal in joining them. How could it happen that two people whose love for each other was all consuming end up as bitter adversaries? That is the heart of Penman’s tale in Devil’s Brood.

Avid Reader's Review:

5 Stars

Incredible.  That one word basically sums up my thoughts on Sharon Kay Penman’s Devil’s Brood, an epic work of historical fiction focused on the final years of the reign of Henry II and his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine.    Penman brings the medieval court of Henry II to life like no other author can, leaving the reader feeling as if they are witnessing first hand the turbulent final years of Henry II’s reign rather than just being an outside observer through the pages of a book.  

I’ve always been intensely interested in the reign of Henry II, as well as his relationships with both Eleanor of Aquitaine and their sons.    Devil’s Brood brings Henry to life not only as a ruler, but also as a husband and father.   It also presents a balanced view of the reasons for Hal, Richard and Geoffrey’s rebellions against their father, and Eleanor’s early support for them.   Although I’ve always respected the intelligence and political acumen of Eleanor of Aquitaine, I can’t say I ever really warmed to her in any of the works of historical fiction I’ve read in which she’s been featured.   This novel changed my impressions of her, and Penman has given me a new perspective of Eleanor that has lead me to have a greater appreciation for why she supported her sons over her husband.   While I may have gained a greater appreciation for Eleanor, this novel has left me less impressed with Henry and Eleanor’s sons, who seemed to feel it their right to rebel whenever their father didn’t give them what they wanted, which was usually money, land and independence.   Never mind that Henry’s sons did very little, especially in their younger years, to prove that they could successfully rule – especially Hal, the Young King.    That said, it wasn’t difficult to see why the sons grew increasingly distrustful of their father.

Overall, not only did I find this novel incredibly interesting and entertaining, but thanks to Penman’s commitment to historical accuracy, I also found it to be highly educational – elements that, for me, mark a great work of historical fiction.