First published about 1976
Not even gonna try to rate this bad boy
This is the third and final book in The Norman Trilogy and tells the story of the last days of the reign of Henry I. His son and wife are dead, and Henry hastily remarries a woman more than thirty years his junior in the hope of producing a male heir and securing the succession.
If he fails, the throne will pass to Matilda, and Henry fears that his nobles will not willingly serve a woman. But after his death this feckless daughter becomes the focus of a line of would-be kings and soon the country is plunged into a bitter civil war that only a child can undo.
What a thorn in my side this book was. I was so looking forward to getting to a Plaidy historical, for Jean Plaidy has been lauded as a favorite author by many. I have seen many posts by people who state that they read her novels when in high school and loved them so. I wanted to love this book, but much like book two of the Norman trilogy, this was a major bomb.
The story follows the timeline of Empress Matilda and her cousin Stephen, when Henry I is aging and needs to name a successor since his one legitimate son perished on the White Ship. The characters of the Empress and Stephen were repeatedly cemented in throughout the novel: the Empress: a virago, and Stephen, the weak usurper.
The novel has a bit of floof to it as well, with the Empress and Stephen secretly in love (which is not a secret or a spoiler since that is what the synopsis implies). The Empress could wield the magic stick and bring Stephen to his knees, pretty much the whole entire novel was the going back and forth .. one of my Goodreads status updates was "Please don't be more about how Stephen wants Matilda and Matilda holds crown over Stephen's head."
Among the many repeated themes in the novel was the fact that the Empress was named Matilda and Stephen's queen was also Matilda. Over and over again the two Matildas were compared to each other, mostly as Stephen mooned over one while ignoring the other. The novel was so very character focused that one does not completely get the feel of how England suffered during the turmoil of the Stephen vs. Empress wars.
I started the novel in the beginning of August. The dog then ate the book, so I had a week off while I waited for another copy. I finally finished the book on September 8. Not exactly one of those page turning novels!
I think over the years the historical fiction genre has seen the rise of excellent writers such as Sharon Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick which then makes picking up a practically vintage Plaidy a hit or miss type of option.
I have enjoyed the three novels I've read under the Phillippa Carr pseudonym, and definitely will return to that series before I can brave another Jean Plaidy.
Thank you so much to MaryKate to being my fellow sufferer. Though perhaps I would have fed the second copy of the book to the dog if I didn't have someone waiting on me for a readalong. BUT it was nice to have someone who understood what I was going through! The fourth Carr will be our next read along as soon as I can muster up the strength to try again :)
The previous reviews of the Norman trilogy:
The Bastard King Vol. 1
The Lion of Justice Vol. 2
The Passionate Enemies Vol. 3