I was craving an easier read after the last book so I picked up The Summer Queen from my library. It is the first of a trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most powerful women in the Middle Ages. All I knew about her, despite her infamous reputation, was the story of when she offered her husband’s mistress, Rosamund, a choice between death by dagger or death by poison. I don’t know yet whether this is true or not.
The story opens with 13 year old Eleanor and her marriage to Prince Louis of France after her father dies in 1137. This book focuses mostly on the result of that marriage, Eleanor’s role as Duchess of Aquitaine and Queen of France and the long journey of the Crusades. Chadwick doesn’t descend to the levels of Islamaphobia and racism that Lainez did but I am getting tired of the trappings of Orientalism that come from involving the crusades and perhaps should have read up on Eleanor before I started this book.
I got off onto a bad start with this book because I found Chadwick’s decision to name her protagonist “Alienor” to respect a historical figure a bit affected. If this were a historical biography I would have had more patience but it is after all a work of fiction and I found the decision extremely unnecessary. However I soon got caught up in the plot and raced through this book in three days. I found the language enjoyable and sensory, Chadwick has the talent of immersing the reader deep in the past, but occasionly the writing is verging on the overblown.
Alienor straightened in the saddle. The realisation that she was Duchess of Aquitaine was stirring within her, like a dragon awakening and stretching sleek, sinuous muscles. “I do not fear them,” she said.
The breakdown of the marriage between Eleanor and Louis was cleverly and emotively done and I found myself emotionally immersed in it. It signals not just court intrigue, scandal and personal danger to Eleanor but the shifting of a dynasty. I will certainly be reading the next book, The Winter Crown, which focuses on the Plantagenet’s in England and the children Eleanor has there, a family tree I am more familiar with- admittedly largely because of the Disney film Robin Hood.
The Summer Queen took hold of my imagination, kept me turning the pages and was a wonderful introduction to Eleanor of Aquitaine but it didn’t quite manage to capture my heart.