Saturday, December 27, 2008

Review: Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman

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!

Visit the author's website here.

Devil's Brood is published by G.P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 978-0-399-15526-0

Order Devil's Brood from Amazon


Ladytink_534 said...

I've heard that she's doing mysteries now? I haven't read anything by her myself but this historical sounds neat.

The Tome Traveller said...

She has done four mysteries and they are wonderful, too. It has been several years since the last one of those was published. Her historical fiction books are huge (this one was around 730 pages), so if you want a taste of her writing the mysteries are a good place to start. They are all much shorter than the novels.

Teddy Rose said...

Great review! I love Penman! IMO she is the queen of historical fiction. I haven't read this book yet but am so looking forward to it!

Donna said...

Enjoyed your review. I haven't read Sharon Kay Penman before but I like historical novels and now having read your review I will look her up.

Happy New Year!

Katherine said...

I read this in October and loved it! Good review. Penman's in a league of her own when it comes to historical fiction.

Michele said...

I'm so glad to hear you loved this one! SKP is probably my favorite author out there and I am so excited there will be another in this series.

tashiana said...

gah! it's set in 1172 :( lol but it does sound sort of intriguing in that odd classroomy historical sense

Thoughts from an Evil Overlord

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New Hampshire, United States
Bibliophile, Anglophile, Traveller... I have been an avid reader all of my life, since I took the Dr. Seuss Dictionary away from my Mom when I was less than a year old because I wanted to read it myself. In college, where I earned my degree in English Literature, I was often asked "What are you going to do with it?" Now I finally have the answer to that question!!! Being employed as a Flight Attendant for twenty years has given me a lot of life experience and, better still, a lot of time to read. I love to travel for fun, too.