Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Book 148: Devil's Brood

I actually read the first two novels in this trilogy at the beginning of the year, and have had this one since February but have been hesitant to read this for two reason - I just wasn't sure if I was in the mood for this kind of commitment since it is a large book, and I didn't look forward to proceeding to this part of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine's marriage.  Their story is just so sad and depressing.  Henry conquered back the crown stolen from his mother, united his lands, married Eleanor, a powerful duchess in her own right, only to have it all crumble.  Henry truly loves his sons and his wife, but he is also unable to share power.  As a result, his family rebels against him as they try to assert their authority.  This would be bad enough in a normal family, but in this case that means wars on the continent.

The other thing is that none of Henry's sons are his equal.  Geoffrey seems to come close in this portrayal, having the intelligence necessary to lead and unite men, while Hal, the heir, is just charming but easily led, and Richard is a brilliant war commander but his other governing choices are problematic.  Henry had a temper, and of course, the death of Becket is part of his legacy as well, but he was also a very intelligent ruler - he was tolerant of the Jews, especially in those days, had common sense, and he implemented such things as juries.  His dispute with Becket was about the unfairness of the Church being the ones to pass judgement on any clerics that had acted illegally - the Church couldn't punish anyone to death so if a priest turned out to be a serial killing rapist, the church could excommunicate him, but not execute him.

Anyway, this novel does a very good job of chronicling the last years of Henry's life, the misunderstandings, mistakes and betrayals.  The trilogy is super detailed and not light reading.  In the first novel, Penman introduced a fictional Welsh uncle for Henry - obviously having a fictional character means she can place them in all kinds of situations and make them witness to more than a normal historical character might have been.  The uncle plays a much reduced role in this novel after being one of the main characters of the first novel.  Henry II has so much going on in these pages that any extra people would simply have made an already full book overstuffed.

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