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...
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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.
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