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Apr 1, 2011

To Be Queen by Christy English

To Be Queen by Christy English
Paperback, 400 pages
April 5th 2011; NAL Trade
ISBN13 978-045123230
Review Copy provided by the author, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating: 4.5 stars

Christy English's second novel brings us her favorite protagonist of Eleanor of Aquitaine. English's previous work of last year, The Queen's Pawn, focused on the relationship between Eleanor and her ward, Alais, who was purpoted to be a mistress of Eleanor's second husband. For this novel, the author steps even further back in time to bring us a prequel to the tumultuous marriage of Eleanor and Henry and brings us the early years of Eleanor as she sows the seeds of ultimate strength and power as only she could.

Eleanor was a woman brought up to believe in herself and Aquitaine as her legacy, above all things. As she recognizes that her dream of becoming a Queen of France was not as fruitful as she would have imagined, she begins to realize that being Queen alongside the pious King Louis was only holding her back. We are always hurried through this marriage to France with our previous Eleanor reads, but now the author takes the time to reimagine this time of Eleanor's life and attempts to prove just how worthy of a woman Eleanor truly was.

Louis wasn't that man to make Eleanor be all that she knew she could be.. and the vassals and priests of Louis' court weren't about to make her feel welcome. Eleanor is unfulfilled in many ways, and the lack of a son and heir for France finally gives Eleanor a way out of the marriage. As that is the simply put timeline of Eleanor's marriage to Louis, the author weaves for us an incredible journey of passion, power, manipulation, lust and greed into a compelling story of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Before the infamous devil's brood, before Henry II locked the scheming Eleanor away, the author gives us the glimpse into the woman that always knew she was destined for the greatest things.

The author's prose drew me in in the beginning, and I was very impressed with how the story had moved along with its atmospheric tones. Towards the end, though, I admit to being tired of the romps in the gardens of Persian roses.. the author takes several liberties with the fiction part but you need to take it as a whole package and simply embrace it. Although the first half seemed stronger than the last, I still enjoyed the entire book immensely and can appreciate the strength and will power of Eleanor that Christy English successfully portrays through To Be Queen. I can also appreciate the rare look at the early life of Eleanor, which is often rushed through. Eleanor's sister Petra is featured somewhat, as well as Louis VII in all his pious inadequacies, but we also have Amaria who is seemingly the most loyal servant and helpful person to Eleanor throughout. The court of love that Eleanor is famous for is also a theme in this story which helps flesh out the character of Eleanor as she strives to maintain her sense of loyalty to her family name and her homeland. Of all the amazing things that Eleanor has done in her life, the fact that she was a queen twice is pretty significant, as well as the fact that barons of Aquitaine swore allegiance to her as a young woman. That Eleanor of Aquitaine is a legend in her own right is a wonderful excuse for women to feel more empowered after reading of all that she accomplished and endured.

If you are looking to either aquaint yourself with Eleanor or if you consider yourself well-versed on her life, I would recommend Christy English's passionate novel on Eleanor which offers a look into the beginnings of the Queen like no other novel before her. You can start with both of English's novels on Eleanor, and I then suggest you move on Sharon Kay Penman and read the trilogy that begins with When Christ and His Saints Slept which will bring you deeper into the history of England following the steps that start with the usurper King Stephen and end many years later with Eleanor's youngest son King John (of Elizabeth Chadwick fame).