*If you don’t know the history, this review does contain spoilers*
Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine lead a very hectic life. Between them, they control England and most of France, and in an age of very slow travel, they struggle in many ways, particularly where their children are concerned. Nearly everyone knows of the chaos that these four sons wreaked on the Angevin Empire; they embroiled it in warfare, usually against their father, and wound up losing much of it to the French king, Philip Augustus. In Devil’s Brood, Sharon Kay Penman elucidates the very human struggle of sons against father, husband against wife, and country against country as all control slips out of Henry II’s fingers, bit by bit.
I unequivocally love Sharon Kay Penman. She is the origin of my over-the-top love for everything Richard III and I have eagerly consumed all of her previous historical novels. This book is no exception. Her previous work in this trilogy, Time and Chance, was probably her weakest effort, but I still loved it, and I loved this one more. She allows us to immerse ourselves in a world that is distinctly not our own, but allows us to relate to historical characters that, after all, were just people.
The book does, at times, move slowly. At its length, that is virtually a given. On the other hand, though, this isn’t an action oriented tale. It’s about the people involved as Penman fleshes out historical personas and makes us feel for them as if they’d walked out of the page and into our lives. The struggle between Henry II and his sons could happen to anyone; how many of us know fathers (or mothers) who are hard-headed, children who are determined to rebel and can’t see where they are wrong? What happens when you place that child on the world’s stage with resources at his disposal? English history happens as sons turns against their father.
As always, my favorite character is Eleanor of Aquitaine. She’s fascinating in both history and fiction and Penman certainly gives her what I believe is her due. The other characters are also well developed and fascinating, an exercise in what-might-have-been like all medieval historical fiction, but Eleanor steals the show. Some old friends return, including Penman’s rare fully fictional main characters, Ranulf and his wife Rhiannon. Like I said before, this is definitely a book about characters. Wars and rebellions go on constantly, but it’s all about them and their reactions to those events. There are heart-breaking moments and there are joyful moments for these characters and it’s easy to get sucked in and feel how they feel.
It’s not perfect. It does move slowly and Penman has an odd tendency to toss in “certes” and other medieval-esque words that aren’t entirely necessary. In real life, these people were speaking Norman French usually, so it doesn’t work for me. And she does romanticize history, but she never does it in a way that makes it inaccurate; just makes you feel for people you wouldn’t have otherwise liked.
Would I recommend this? Most definitely. Not if you’re looking for a quick read, but if you want to immerse yourself in a terrific historical novel, live and breathe the Middle Ages as best we’re able, you should be looking for Sharon Kay Penman. Buy this book on Amazon.