October 06, 2011

When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman

A masterful telling of the turmoil between Maude, heir to the throne, Stephen, usurper to the throne, and Henry, Maude's son, this novel is of the riveting history of early England. After a disastrous sinking of a ship and the death of the heir to the throne, Maude, the King's daughter is called back from Germany to be the new heir to the throne. Because of her new husband and the fact that she is a woman, when the King dies his favorite nephew Stephen is given the throne instead. Desperate to win back her inheritance, Maude begins a full scale civil war with Stephen, eager to get back what is her's and her son's.

Many years pass with the upper hand going from side to side. While Stephen was well liked and popular when in the King's court, as a King he is not so much favored. Too quick to forgive and let his enemies rule him he finds it hard to retain the crown and his kingdom. Worse yet, his son Eustace is shaping up to be a not so great replacement for him on the throne.

When Maude's son comes of age he takes up the battle for the crown himself. In doing so he also weds the beguiling Eleanor, one time French Queen. Together they rise against Stephen to restore what is rightfully Henry's; the throne and kingship of England.

This was a very long novel. Penman uses quite a bit of description and as a result early England is very much alive in her work. Told from the third person it skips around from character to character and also time and place. My complaint on this would be that sometimes it would be hard to tell what month or even year it was unless you were at the start of a chapter. Otherwise, her wording flowed beautifully.

The characters were also riveting. While the first portion of the book focuses largely on Maude, the second part turns to her son Henry and she is only mentioned here and there with little to no appearances in the rest of the book. Another large character is the fictional character of Ranulf, an illegitimate son of the king and Maude's brother. While there is no proof of his existence, Penman works him into the story so that the battles can be seen by his eyes, but his presence does not alter the course of history. It was nice to see in that such a time as early England was that Penman created strong female characters, but did not let them act in a way that was unfitting of the times as well.

Overall I greatly enjoyed this book. I was lost some times in the history as I've not studied much on Europe's history, but the novel itself was engaging. I would have liked to know how marrying Eleanor helped Henry in his fight for the throne as I didn't understand the intricacies that went into it and I'm sure I'm not the only one with this trouble as well. It looks like I'll have to open a few history books for my answers. Most of the plot and the telling of the history was straightforward however, and that is what makes this book a truly enjoyable read. I can't wait to move on to the next in the series, Time and Chance.

When Christ and His Saints Slept
Copyright 1995
738 pages

No comments:

Post a Comment