Title: Devil’s Brood
Author: Sharon Kay Penman
A tidbit about the author
One-time tax lawyer. An animal rights enthusiast. Supporter of gay rights. Penman is a best-selling novelist known for her meticulous research. She has written 13 books. Her first, The Sunne in Splendour, published in 1982, is a novel of Richard III (whose bones, you’ll recall, were unearthed in a car park in Leicester in 2012). Penman’s most recent book, A King’s Ransom, describes Richard the Lionheart’s captivity and imprisonment by the Holy Roman Emperor following the Third Crusade, up to his death in 1199.
Devil’s Brood, published in 2008, is the 3rd in Penman’s Plantagenet series. This is the story of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and their sons from 1172 – 1189. Over the course of the novel, the three oldest – Hal, Geoffrey, and Richard (and four if you count John turning against Henry in 1189) – unite in rebellion with Eleanor against their father, and at various times with the French king. When the royal offspring aren’t fighting Henry, they scheme against each other. Eleanor is captured and spends 15 years under house arrest. If you are a fan of the film The Lion in Winter, it takes place during this tumultuous time. The movie is fabulous, but it stretches the truth a bit. (Why Hollywood chose to fabricate fiction is unfathomable considering all the real-life drama of this clan.) This is the only book of the 3 in the series that I’ve read (so far). It deals with the time period leading up to the era I write about: the Third Crusade.
The scene that made you laugh out loud or cheer
Before Eleanor had been imprisoned for her role in her sons’ rebellion against Henry, there is a scene where Henry has dismissed his barber. Eleanor – with scissors in hand – clips his hair. The thought of her with scissors at Henry’s neck brings a smile to my face.
It is hard to find places to cheer in the book because this family puts itself through hell. You keep turning pages thinking ‘surely, no, they’ll come to their senses!’ And you keep turning pages. There is a scene – Christmas time at Chinon in 1172 – where Henry & Eleanor have a daytime tryst. They’ve not seen each other in two years, and though Eleanor knows he has bedded numerous women (including the famous Rosamund), their conversation is amiable. They enjoy each others’ bodies and have fond memories. The banter between them is wonderful. If you didn’t know the history, you might let your guard down, only to be surprised a few pages later when Henry’s scheming riles Eleanor.
The place where you wanted to throw the book across the room
By the 3rd, 4th, or 5th time Henry fails to understand that withholding true power from his sons would create division that could tear the Angevin empire apart, I was in a state of disbelief. Surely the man was bright enough to see this. Pure fiction, for the drama? Not at all. Time and again, it truly played out as Penman writes. Henry’s stubbornness gets tiring. If you’ve read this book, did you want to slap his royal you-know-what?
A memorable line (or two)
“If lust could kill, Harry, you’d have been dead years ago.”
And if Henry spun webs to make a spider proud, Eleanor could entangle archangels in her snares. Roger suspected that she intrigued even in her sleep.
His thoughts were as skittish as unbroken horses, darting hither and yon as if he no longer had control of his own brain.
Impeccable research. A vivid sense of time and place. Oh the politics! So incredible that you have to stop and remember THIS IS HISTORY! Penman isn’t making up the machinations of Henry II, Eleanor, their sons, or Philip of France. Penman brings them to life – you almost feel like you’re a casual observer in their lives.
Charlene Newcomb is the author of the Battle Scars series, 12th century historical fiction filled with war, political intrigue, and a knightly romance of forbidden love set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart.
Char also writes science fiction. Echoes of the Storm was published in July 2020.
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