Having just finished reading a chunk of Serious Nonfiction History by Alison Weir, I wanted to relax with some fun “we can’t really know exactly what happened so let’s just take our best guess and make a good story out of it,” historical fiction. Which also, not coincidentally, happened to be by Alison Weir. Maybe she thinks writing historical fiction is a nice break too.
The Captive Queen tells the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine, from her first meeting with the future Henry II of England, through the golden years of their marriage, her long captivity after she participates in her sons’ rebellion against Henry, and ends with a glimpse of her life after Henry’s death. This same territory has been travelled by my favourite historical novelist, Sharon Kay Penman, in her latest trilogy, and I think Penman does it better, coming a little closer to capturing the emotional pathos of a marriage that started with such passion and promise, and ended so very, very badly.
That’s not to say that The Captive Queen is not well-written or engaging, though there were times when Weir’s language veered uncomfortably close to romance-novel cliches and I could have done without those scenes. The story of Eleanor and Henry is a great big story, with lots of wonderful material — a medival marriage that was both a love match and the ultimate marriage of convenience, and it’s also, of course, a tragedy on a vast scale. Weir manages to capture at least a little of this, in a highly readable and enjoyable piece of historical fiction.
But, is it the best historical novel with the word “Queen” in the title that I read this summer? No. No it is not. Read on to find out more …