TIME AND CHANCE, part two of an enthralling trilogy about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, opens during the glory years of their reign. Their partnership was proving highly productive, both politically - as Henry redefined the role of medieval kingship - and literally, as Eleanor gave birth to their children, founding a dynasty that would endure ...
TIME AND CHANCE, part two of an enthralling trilogy about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, opens during the glory years of their reign. Their partnership was proving highly productive, both politically - as Henry redefined the role of medieval kingship - and literally, as Eleanor gave birth to their children, founding a dynasty that would endure for three hundred years. But even in these happy times, shadows were lurking. Battles with the Welsh and the French king. The disastrous appointment of Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury. And when Henry took lovely young Rosumund Clifford into his bed, little did he realise that in making an enemy of his proud, passionate queen he was making the gravest mistake of all...
I'm not sure what my beef is with this series. The story matches real events, but the characters don't feel like medieval characters. They feel like modern suburbanites with medieval technology. One thing might be that the author makes no attempt to write dialog in a style that her characters might actually have spoken -- that's okay by itself (If I wanted to read Chaucer in the original, I would have bought Chaucer in the original), but she lets words and especially idiom slip in that would have been incomprehensible at the time. It's jarring, like in the movie Titanic when the girl gives somebody "the finger."
On the other hand, I do feel better-informed about the outlines of the saga of the White Ship, Stephen, all the Mauds and Matildas, Eleanor and Henry, an education acquired much less painfully than wading through some history professor's prose.
So, I'm on the fence.
Apr 3, 2007
TIME AND CHANCE: PENMAN GROWN STALE
Being an afficionado of all things Plantagenet and having read a good many accounts of the twelfth century in England and surrounds, I cannot fault Sharon Penman's attention to historical detail. However, as far as I can gather, the purpose of the book is to entertain rather than regurgitate historical fact, and with this being the fifth book of Penman's that I have read, I am definitely now beginning to find her writing rather stale. Quite apart from the fact that the same characters may appear in more than one novel, there is very little attempt to gain a new slant on any given historical personage. The result is that the characters from any one book all look and act as if they were simply transplanted into a new setting - they even use much the same turn of phrase.
Incidentally, the book is not really that much about Thomas Becket, which is very much a sub-plot within the twists and turns of shifting twelfth-century politics. I also cannot fault Ms Penman's adherence to her Welsh roots - however dealing with the chronically insurgent Welsh was very much a side activity of English royalty, and her emphasis on the Welsh aspect is, historically speaking, misplaced.
The book would have been more than pleasant reading if it had been the first time I had sampled Penman's wares. Unfortunately they are for my taste, far too similar. Penman may not be aiming to create great literature but I do suspect she could aim a little higher.
Publishers Weekly, 2002-01-21 When Christ and His Saints Slept was Penman's popular account of the 12th-century struggle for England's throne. This book, the second of a planned trilogy, begins after Henry II has inherited the crown and married Eleanor of Aquitaine a mature beauty and a wealthy ruler in her own right. Henry II is a confident leader, but he is also wise enough to appreciate his politically astute wife. His only other trusted adviser is Thomas Becket. Diplomatic and suave, Becket is the perfect complement for a rough-hewn young king. When he makes his chancellor archbishop of Canterbury, Henry believes he is creating an indomitable union of church and state. Becket, however, becomes an adamant protector of ecclesiastical power. The resulting conflict will climax in Becket's murder. In her five previous historical novels, Penman has exhibited a cool, almost academic style balanced by a penetrating sympathy, her fiction adhering faithfully to fact while making the past fully present. She would seem the ideal author to turn these outsized players in a royal drama into real people. Unfortunately, this long-anticipated novel lacks animation. The main characters never come to life, and Becket, in particular, remains a cipher: Penman never ventures inside this saint in the making, nor does she successfully explicate his conversion. She is more confident with her wholly imagined characters, but their vividness only serves to underscore the lifeless quality of the principals, and even the well-defined characters too often indulge in tedious and unbelievable expository monologues. 10-city author tour. (Mar. 4) Forecast: Penman may not attract new fans with this disappointing offering, but the many readers who have been waiting seven years for it to appear will snap it up regardless. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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