Eleanor of Aquitaine stands out from the history of the Middle Ages. She had land, money, power, and intelligence. She continues to fascinate historians, writers, and readers due to her two marriages, two crowns, and her determination to live the life she wanted regardless of societal barriers. I’ve read any book about her that I could get my hands on with an interest that goes back to childhood. So, I had to pick up Ms. Chadwick’s latest book on one of my favorite time periods.
For those unfamiliar with her (and without giving away too much), Eleanor grew up in the times of the Crusades. European monarchs ruled over unruly nobles and the Catholic Church united them under one common belief system. Women held no power and gained little respect from the men around them. Yet, women could inherit land and titles, depending on the country and territory, though their husbands tended to end up with both. Against this background, Eleanor grew into a woman who shaped the history and culture of two nations.
Ms. Chadwick brings Eleanor (Alienor) alive in The Summer Queen, the first book of a new trilogy. The number of hostile original sources (men of the time who wrote a variety of rumor, innuendo, and scandal about her) offer a challenge to any author who takes on Eleanor as a topic. When it comes to any historical figure’s sex life, no one will ever know the truth. The power of historical fiction, when done well, is that it allows an author to create a personality and offer possible explanations for the events for the past. Ms. Chadwick did this well.
Of all the things I enjoyed about this book, I appreciated Ms. Chadwick’s restraint when it came to romance. The royalty of the Middle Ages did not marry for love. Over the years, Eleanor has become a romantic figure, with authors creating a passionate love story from the details of her life. I think Ms. Chadwick’s version comes closer to the reality as it must have been and am always glad to come across a writer who can resist love-at-first-sight story lines.
However, without a strong romantic story line, the book lacked a strong unifying plot. I know this is a frequent challenge in historical fiction, after all real lives don’t come with strong plots and neat endings. I found The Summer Queen slow in parts and easy to put down. As a reader, I wanted more dramatic tension to pull me from chapter to chapter. Toward the end, I kept thinking “okay, this is a great place to end” but discovered the story was going just a little further.
Overall, I enjoyed this book and will read the next two in the series. For fans of historical fiction, Ms. Chadwick adds a solid contribution to the genre.
Sara Drake has been an avid reader since a young age. She has both a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling and a Master’s in History.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Sourcebooks Landmark. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.