Monday, March 04, 2013

Book 28: Time and Chance

Taking up where When Christ and His Saints Slept left off, Time and Chance follows Henry II through the first fifteen years of his reign.  While there are quite a few things going on in this novel, and several wars and rebellions, the main events of this novel are the slow deterioration of Henry and Eleanor's marriage, and Henry's feud with Tom Becket.  Penman certainly shows a great grasp of the history and the different events going on, and shares this information with her reader in a generally engaging way.  I actually quite enjoyed the side trips to Wales to learn of Hywel and Owain as seen through the eyes of Ranulf, a brother of Maude and uncle of Henry II that Penman invented for the sake of her narrative (though Maude was the only surviving legitimate heir, she had around 20 illegitimate siblings, hence the addition of a half-Welsh half-brother).  However, I think I preferred When Christ and His Saints Slept, though this was still a good novel.  The main difference is that while it took me a bit of time to get into When Christ and His Saints Slept, once I was into it, I was sucked in.  I feel like this one started off strong but my interest vanned some in the middle and last parts.  It might just be me, but I feel like I spent less time in the characters' heads this time around, and more time being told facts.  This isn't a bad thing, but it made it slightly less engaging.
I also will say that part of it may be related to something else.  Henry and Eleanor are one of those couples I both love and hate to hear about.  On the one hand, they were both incredibly intelligent, capable and powerful rulers who had a passionate marriage.  On the other hand, it all falls apart.  While the series doesn't get there in this installation, Henry locks Eleanor up for over ten years, and she at one point encourages her sons to rebel against their father.  What started out as a strong partnership simply disintegrates.  Additionally, while Henry and Eleanor are brilliant, their offspring are decidedly less capable than they are.  However, these are all events that are still in the future of the series, though knowing it is coming makes it tough to read.  Eleanor has been tolerant of affairs conducted discreetly while they are apart, but in this novel Henry takes up Rosamund of Clifford as a mistress, in a situation that is very different from the ones before.  Additionally, Henry often ignores Eleanor's advice, leading to arguments, and between these two things, their marriage begins to weaken.  They also interpret each other's action in completely wrong ways - who knows how much of this is true to life, but in the novel, Eleanor feels slighted, and though Henry still loves her, he doesn't quite understand or see her perspective, nor does he even realize that she doubts his love due to her wounded pride and ego.
The other large event of Henry's life that this novel covers is his feud with Thomas Becket.  Harry originally promoted Becket to be his chancellor, and Becket has had great success in the position, fighting for the king's rights.  However, Harry has some issues with the church, many of which I even see as justified.  In order to bring harmony to his reign, he pulls strings to get Becket made the Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest religious office in the country, under the assumption that this way he'll have an ally in the church.  Unfortunately, things don't work out that way though it takes Harry some time to realize that Becket's and Henry's views of how Becket should act  are very different.  One character describes Becket as a chameleon, someone that is able to blend in wherever he is and succeed.  When a politician, he was going to be the most devious and best; now that he is serving as archbishop, he is going to be the most pious bishop possible and defensive of the church's rights.  One of the king's main concern with the church was his inability to punish wrongdoers within the church; for example, after a knight was murdered by a member of the clergy, the clergy member was prosecuted within the church where 12 men swearing an oath that the accused wouldn't do something like that is enough to get him off.  Even the ones that are viewed as guilty are merely banned from the church.  The king feels that he should have the right to prosecute these clergy members in his courts with actual evidence required rather than oaths and such.  When Becket refuses to budge, Henry makes demands that are excessive while Becket keeps arguing with him.  Basically, what seems like should have been a simple issue escalates because both men are prideful, stubborn and arrogant until both are in the wrong though they think they have right on their side.  Not everyone in the church even agreed with Becket but as their leader, the clergy follow him, and find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard palce.  In fact, it certainly seems that by the end Becket was trying to make himself a martyr which would certainly allow him to win the argument even if he wasn't around to witness the results.
Henry's relationship with his children is almost non-existent due to his continued absences and the demands of ruling such a large territory as he does.  Henry does not trust easily, and within this novel he feels that Becket, one of the few people he trusts, betrays him.  With the novel ending where it does, it sets up Harry to be faced with another series of betrayals in the sequel, this time by his own family.  While Henry was a good ruler from what I've gleamed, he didn't know how to share power or how to engage his family.  It will be interesting to see how Penman portrays all this.  Since this is a novel I understand that the focus will be on the drama and events, but I wouldn't mind hearing more about things that Henry implemented in his rule that improved lives, besides the fact that his existence as king ended a period of civil war.  He is always described as pragmatic, a man that will go to war if necessary but doesn't relish it among various other attributes (really, I just need to find a real non-fiction bio on the man).  I'm definitely planning on reading the third one in the series; however, once I am done with that, I think I am more likely to follow up with Penman's Welsh series or maybe even the stand alone The Sunne in Splendour (Richard III! - it's topical) rather than reading Lionheart - I know chronologically, it comes first, but I am far more curious to learn more about Wales at this point than about Richard.  Besides, when it comes down to it, I am much more interested in Henry and Eleanor than their offspring.

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