Another offering from historical fiction author, Elizabeth Chadwick, who has given us historical novels such as The Winter Mantle, The Love Knot and The Conquest. The Summer Queen deals with a time period over approximately 1137-1154, spanning Eleanor of Aquitaine’s first marriage to Louis and its downfall, as well as the early months of her marriage to Henry.
She starts off as a 13-year-old girl who is deeply attached to her father. He arranges her marriage to Louis, and we see as the marriage progresses, shudders and fails. If they were a 21st century couple, you’d definitely be insisting that they speak to a marriage advice charity. But in the same way, Louis is presented as a man with many loyalties and his own problems; tormented by religion and the scheming of advisers, he is trapped but you begin to lose sympathy with him as the book moves on.
I knew a vague history of Eleanor of Aquitaine because, to be honest, who hasn’t heard of Eleanor of Aquitaine? the woman who defied her time and tried to fight for what was hers. Near the end of the book we also see King Henry II, who was only nineteen when he married her. He was known to be an ebullient personality, and I always think he sounds like a great guy to know. He was enigmatic, loving and sexy. This book is a trilogy and I wait with the nervous forefinger of a historical novel reader for the other books as we see the progression of the Henry-Eleanor marriage for better or worse. Knowing history, probably worse.
We also see Eleanor as a very modern woman. She even has mother-in-law problems. But still, other books by Chadwick, such as The Scarlet Lion, have given us a glimpse into the older Eleanor and it is always refreshing to see ‘where it all began’, as it were. I don’t know how much of a liberty Chadwick took with the facts, but it doesn’t really matter because it manages to fill in the gaps and draw conclusions to create a book that is a sweeping epic in its own right.
MY RATING: 5 / 5.