The one good thing about the disastrously hot, stinky summer weather is that no-one expects me to go out in it – if you’d ever seen me in 40°+ you’d know why.
So I spent the disgustingly hot days of my holidays in the two air-conditioned rooms of our holiday house finding sanctuary in books. For Christmas I was given Sharon Penman’s Devil’s Brood . It is the conclusion to her medieval trilogy about Henry and Eleanor; royal love, death & politics. BUT of course I could not just sit down and read it, oh no not me! I had to go back to the start and re-read When Christ and His Saints Slept. Please understand, this was not a hardship I love this book because it is filled with loveable, believable characters and brings to life historical events, such as the sinking of the White Ship, which, with the benefit of hindsight, can be seen to shape so much of England’s, France’s and the world’s future.
It’s a great way to get your history. Some writers of historical fiction take much more license with history in an effort to make a great narrative. Penman seems to go the opposite way making her story fit the history, weaving her fiction amongst historical events. I’m no medieval history buff by any stretch of the imagination but whenever I’ve researched something that peaked my interest (like Maude escaping from a snow-enveloped siege right through enemy lines under the cover of a white cloak) there it was right where Penman said it would be, and that’s good enough for me.
My heat enforced confinfinement to my air-con rooms was the perfect opportunity to re-read this book – one of my favourites. After reading When Christ and his Saints slept however, it was still not straight on to Devil’s Brood, because Time and Chance comes next! I am enjoying it almost as much. It’s a smaller book by half but it’s taking me longer to read it – perhaps because the holiday is over and I’m busier. I’m enjoying following Ranulf’s story as he moves into Wales because he’s one character not based on a real-life person so Penman can do whatever she likes with him and it’s really interesting to see how she’ll develop his story-line.
I love the chapter divisions that move the plot along on its arc. Each chapter is headed by the time and place setting so one Chapter might be Winchester November 1165 and the next could be Normandy March 1166. I guess Penman is following the major events she wants to highlight but she always finds a way to fill in the intervening months/years. I also love how sometimes the vehicle for that revelation is a completely new character who’s just there for exposition purposes but nevertheless receives Penman’s full descriptive attention so that the reader doesn’t mind getting to know someone new and enjoys the different point of view.
I can’t wait to get to Devil’s Brood and maybe I might even re-read Penman’s Welsh Trilogy that starts with Here be Dragons which, if you can believe it, I love even more than Henry and Eleanor’s story.
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