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Jun 15, 2015

The Winter Crown by Elizabeth Chadwick

Alienor's story continues..

The Winter Crown (Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy Book #2) by Elizabeth Chadwick
Sphere, 483 pages, September 2014
Purchased from Amazon
Burton Book Review Rating: 4.5 stars

It is the winter of 1154 and Eleanor, Queen of England, is biding her time. While her husband King Henry II battles for land across the channel, Eleanor fulfills her duty as acting ruler and bearer of royal children. But she wants to be more than this - if only Henry would let her. Instead, Henry belittles and excludes her, falling for a young mistress and leaving Eleanor side-lined and angry. And as her sons become young men, frustrated at Henry's hoarding of power, Eleanor is forced into a rebellion of devastating consequences. She knows how much Henry needs her, but does Henry know himself? Overflowing with scandal, politics, sex, triumphs and tragedies, The Winter Crown is the much-awaited new novel in this trilogy and a rich, compelling story in its own right.

Elizabeth Chadwick is one of the best historical novelists of our time bringing the medieval era to life with her storytelling. She delivers with a realistic voice and is not overly dramatic with her topics, taking her time to tell the most believable version of history featuring notable protagonists such as Queen Eleanor and King Henry II of England.

Eleanor's life story is one of my favorites, and I have probably read at least ten books with her as a feature character. Her legend is a remarkable one as a Duchess becoming a Queen of France, a Crusader, and then a Queen of England, while raising kings and daughters to kings.

I was completely enthralled with the first installment of the Eleanor trilogy, The Summer QueenThe Winter Crown took on a bit of its name and seemed a bit more cold and less passionate, but given the subject matter I could hardly complain. Here Eleanor is already married to Henry II and the novel opens to his coronation in 1154 ending with her incarceration at Sarum in 1174.

These are the years of childbearing, all seemingly done as part of duty rather than love. Eleanor does her best to raise the children as Henry pulls the strings along the way, leaving little room left for Eleanor's wishes. She is portrayed as a regal Queen, and not as a sex-driven wanton as other writers have made her out to be, and Eleanor seems much more subdued in this story. It is very easy to dislike Henry and his overbearing ways and to sympathize with Eleanor and her lack of power. The Thomas Becket affair is addressed, along with the romantic affairs of Henry and how these events affected Eleanor.

Where previous books had shown Eleanor to be less of a mother and more of a Queen, Chadwick does put forth a more caring visage in this representation, which helps to endear us to Eleanor. Another welcome addition was the inclusion of a friendship between Eleanor and Isabel de Warrenne, and the gallant character of William Marshal was also appreciated. Chadwick's novel is foremost a story of Eleanor; the focus is on her, flaws and all, and not simply a rehash of absolutely everything that happened to Henry and his kingdom.

The last installment of the trilogy (The Autumn Throne) coming in 2016 will hopefully represent a thawing of the chains around Eleanor as she guides her sons closer to the coveted throne. Henry II has to die at some point -and as bad as it may sound- I look forward to that occurring in the last book, just as I look forward to seeing the fruits of Eleanor's labor come to light. Elizabeth Chadwick shows off her research and hones in on Eleanor and her character, and I am hoping for a very intriguing climax during the finale of the trilogy. If you haven't read many books on Eleanor before, this will be a treat for you.