Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick

*Warning: I did not study European history, and I definitely did not study or read extensively about Eleanor of Aquitaine or her husband(s). I'm treating this novelisation as a novel and will discuss the characters accordingly*

This is a novel based on a real person. It's not a biography, but rather a novel, since it makes assumptions about the people in it and in a way, fictionalises them. The Summer Queen is about Eleanor of Aquitaine, whom I'm just discovering is a fascinating woman.

Married off to King Louis of France at age 13 after her father's death. Eleanor strives for independence in a court, and in an age, where women were looked down upon. Her marriage, which started off very promisingly, went downhill after Louis returned from battle changed. The king who never wanted to be a king started to mistrust Eleanor, and blamed her for the lack of children.

What I loved about this novel would be Eleanor. Her hands are tied from the very start of the novel - she doesn't have a choice if or who she wants to marry - and yet she never gives up. She tries her hardest to protect the interests of Aquitaine. She could have given up and let herself be molded into the perfect wife, but nope, that wasn't the route she took.

On the other hand, Louis was downright disagreeable and nasty. He claims to be pious, but his actions show that he's anything but. Misogynistic and bull-headed, there's practically nothing to like about him. I say practically because this book is mainly from Eleanor's point of view after all, which is biased. Although I must admit that even his few narrative chapters didn't manage to endear him to me.

The last character (that comes in late in the novel) is Henry. Oh, I'm sure I'm not spoiling it for all the history students, you know what happened. So far, Henry is an interesting character, and while I haven't decided how I feel about his portrayal yet, I'm cautiously optimistic about him.

Lastly, I have to add in a word about historical accuracy. Elizabeth Chadwick freely admits that she fictionalised things, such as Eleanor's feelings towards certain characters (i.e. there's no hard and fast proof about what was going on). In fact, we don't really know much about Eleanor, as Elizabeth Chadwick shows when she points us in the direction of a paper called "Do we know what we think we know? Making assumptions about Eleanor of Aquitaine" by Ragena C. DeAragon.

Personally, I took this book as a novel and really enjoyed reading it. Perhaps it's won't become a definitive reference about Eleanor, but it is a good way to spark an interest into this fascinating woman.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

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