Thursday, November 03, 2016

Review: The Winter Crown

Elizabeth ChadwickThe Winter Crown (Eleanor of Aquitaine Series, Book 2)
By Elizabeth Chadwick
Sourcebooks Landmark, September 2014

About the Book

As Queen of England, Eleanor has a new cast of enemies―including the king.

Eleanor has more than fulfilled her duty as Queen of England. She has given her husband, Henry II, heirs to the throne and has proven herself as a mother and ruler. But Eleanor needs more than to be a bearer of children and a deputy; she needs command of the throne. As her children grow older, and her relationship with Henry suffers from scandal and infidelity, Eleanor realizes the power she seeks won’t be given willingly. She must take it for herself. But even a queen must face the consequences of treason...

In this long-anticipated second novel in the Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy, bestselling author Elizabeth Chadwick evokes a royal marriage where love and hatred are intertwined, and the battle over power is fought not with swords, but deception.

My Review

The second in Elizabeth Chadwick’s Eleanor of Aquitaine series, The Winter Crown follows Aleinor from the early days of her marriage to England’s Henry II through the births of their many children to the brink of rebellion. Aleinor completes her wifely and queenly duty by producing the many sons and daughters necessary to fulfill Henry’s dynastic ambitions. She is pleased with her unique role of raising the next generation, but still she yearns for more. She longs for an equal, co-ruling partnership with her tempestuous husband, an opportunity to freely govern her own lands without interference, and a chance to make her own decisions.

Henry, however, has other ideas, which include his opinions and no one else’s. Aleinor’s ideas are usually ignored by her husband, who spends more time visiting his vast domains and finding carnal pleasure elsewhere than returning home to his wife and the new children that are regularly born. Aleinor realizes that she has been placed on the sidelines, that her role in Henry’s life has been assigned, and that there is little she can do to change that. Her frustration grows as Henry reigns his lands and his family with an iron fist.

The real tragedy for Henry is that Aleinor has a wealth of experience and skills that would soften his rough edges and help him in the long run. For instance, the more perceptive and diplomatic Aleinor foresees her husband’s difficulties with Thomas Becket, the son of a merchant, whom Henry raises to the positions of chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, but Aleinor’s warnings go unheeded, much to Henry’s peril. Aleinor’s vexation over Henry’s boorish behavior multiplies when Henry’s need for absolute control keeps his children relegated to the sidelines too, never giving the boys an opportunity to spread their wings and grow into the next line of rulers. As the boys reach adulthood, this problem only grows and the boys seek their mother’s help to force their father’s hand. Meanwhile, Henry’s adulterous relationship with Rosamund Clifford reminds Aleinor of what little respect Henry has for her, both as a queen and as a woman.

Readers get a deep sense of Aleinor’s frustrations, the shackles holding her back, and her dreams for a more fulfilling life. Her relationship with her husband is compared to a “tinder fire”, where the blaze is full but there is no glowing core to sustain it. The image of a lioness in a cage seems to best capture Aleinor’s angst, and it is easy to sympathize with the treatment she receives when you catch glimpses of all that she is capable of achieving. Her dissatisfaction only gains momentum over the course of the novel, culminating in her oldest boys (particularly her favorite Richard, the future Richard I of England), who bristle under their father’s restrictive authority.

Chadwick’s narrative flows seamlessly. The battles between Henry and Becket don’t dominate the narrative, as they have in other tellings, which helps keep the story racing forward. Even if this is a tale you already know, you’ll enjoy this colorful telling with its emphasis on Aleinor’s development from compliant bride, to scorned woman, to a lioness ready to take back what is rightfully hers. I look forward to the third book.

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