In 1172 Henry II has been on the throne, ruling his vast kingdom that stretches from England to the Mediterranean, for eighteen years. His passionate marriage to Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine is as volatile as ever and their sons are nearing adulthood.
As Henry works to extricate himself from his problems with the Church that were created by the murder of Thomas Becket, his oldest son Hal has plans of his own. Hal has been crowned king while his father still rules and he is chafing under his father's tight leash. Like any young man, Hal feels he is ready for responsibility and freedom from oversight. Unfortunately his personality is unsuited for the rigors of ruling a kingdom. He is far too easily swayed by a quiet word in his ear and is unable to make a decision and stand by it. Before long Hal has joined in with rebel lords against his father, the king.
Even worse for Henry, his other sons Richard and Geoffrey are eager to join the rebellion. It is even supported by Henry's wife, Eleanor. This is the last straw for Henry. Though the rebellion fails and his sons beg his forgiveness, Henry can never bring himself to forgive his wife. Eleanor is destined to spend the next sixteen years in confinement, imprisoned by the King her husband, who feels her betrayal acutely.
The years of Eleanor's imprisonment amount to a tragic deterioration of her family. Henry feels he can trust no one but himself and, as a result, refuses to allow his sons any power or responsibility of their own. He claims that they must earn it but he gives them precious little opportunity to do so. For their part, the sons are unable to understand their father and they are slowly poisoned by his lack of faith in them. Eventually they even seek alliances with their father's enemies, including the French king. Another sharp stab to Henry's heart.
The Princes also develop hatred against each other, fueled by intense jealousy and lust for power. Their battles and confrontations further rip apart a family already in shreds. The most touching scene in the book occurs when Henry and Eleanor together realize and mourn their failure as parents.
In Devil's Brood Sharon Kay Penman has continued her tour de force account of the Plantagenet Dynasty begun in When Christ and His Saints Slept and continued in Time and Chance. She has, once again, given us a thoroughly researched, clear-eyed appraisal of a turbulent political time, while imbuing the story with aching sympathy and sorrow for this long ago family who were unable to achieve the unity and love so necessary to a happy life.
Sharon Kay Penman is, in my opinion, one of the finest historical fiction writers and I have loved each one of her novels since I picked up Here Be Dragons many years ago. I was thrilled to read, in the Author's Note at the end of Devil's Brood, that the characters will not let her go and so she will be continuing the story of Eleanor, Richard, John and the rest in her next book. Hurray!
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Devil's Brood is published by G.P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 978-0-399-15526-0
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