Tag Archives: Henry II of England

Christy English’s THE QUEEN’S PAWN

This is the most unusual historical novel I have ever read. The story of the rivalry between Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen to Louis VII of France and Henry II of England, and her daughter-in-law Princess Alais of France, daughter to the same Louis whom Eleanor discarded by another wife.

The problem with writing novels about real people is the tangled family trees and tangled politics that one has to deal with. But Christy English, in her debut novel THE QUEEN’S PAWN has hit upon a novel solution. It is to slow the action down to a crawl by giving the reader a blow-by-blow account of every facial gesture, bodily reaction and thought in a series of tells.

If you’ve been reading my book reviews over the years, you know I am not a fan of tells. Too often they are intrusive and annoying, because they are – in effect – TELLING the reader what to think! And readers do not like that.

However, it is NOT possible to write a novel without having some tells sprinkled in. It is too clunky and laborious to convey everything merely by describing expression or bodily reaction without giving the reader some clue as to what is going on in the character’s mind. One way around this is to use interior monologue. And Ms. English does use some of that. But what struck me was how often she told the reader what to think. Here is an example of what I mean, two passages taken from the same page. The tells are in BLOCK CAPS.


“Richard bowed to us, and we curtsied. “I hope to see you again,” he said to me, LOWERING HIS VOICE SLIGHTLY, AS IF TO GIVE US PRIVACY THAT WE NO LONGER HAD.”

“Richard smiled, HIS FACE SOFTENING STILL FURTHER AT THE SIGHT OF THE BOY. He touched the crown of the boy’s head and the page rose to his feet.
“My lord prince, the queen calls for you to go on a hunt.”


There are three things that are odd about Ms. English’s writing style:

  1. The slowness of the pacing. It rarely gets much faster than this.
  2. The number of tells.
  3. The fact that these tells are almost always NOT annoying. Sometimes they are. But considering that the novel is literally stuffed with these observations that tell you what to think, it is surprising how unobtrusive they are.

So how does she do it? By not wasting words. What I mean by that is that everything she writes has a point to it, and the point is the emotional river that her characters inhabit. Where most people go wrong is in writing things that are not deeply connected to their character’s emotions. Ms. English does not make that mistake. Like Jane Austen, she has found a way to make tells both fresh and compelling. Five stars.

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This is the first one of Ariana Franklin’s MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH series that I’ve read, and I must say I enjoyed it even though there was one horrendous incident in the novel, in which the screams of the victim were hauntingly portrayed. (The nastiness and brutishness of the Middle Ages was well-portrayed and believable.) I agreed with other readers, however, that the author should NOT have dismissed Eleanor of Aquitaine as someone who was not her husband’s intellectual equal. I can imagine Henry saying that about her, but I didn’t think that Franklin should let her authorial opinions intrude at this point. Especially as she is probably wrong.

The book was enjoyable until the end. What a lazy way to end a novel! It was extremely annoying because it was so obviously a marketing pitch for the next one. Apart from the cheap ending, I enjoyed the novel. Four stars for an entertaining novel, 1 star for the lazy ending making this 3 stars.

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Eleanor of Aquitaine & Geoffrey Le Bel: An Affair?

I love Eleanor of Aquitaine (1120-1204). Who could not? She was such a vivid personality, a beautiful woman and someone who was not shy about breaking with convention. When I was writing THWARTED QUEEN about Cecylee Neville, Duchess of York (1415-1495), I decided to give Cecylee a heroine. Cecylee was a remarkable person in her own right who seems to have kept her husband Richard, Duke of York (1411-1460) wrapped firmly around her little finger. So what better heroine to give her than the spirited and beautiful Eleanor?


I was just reading a piece by Elizabeth Chadwick posted on her blog LIVING THE HISTORY, and it seems that there was gossip that Eleanor had an affair with her future father-in-law Geoffrey of Anjou. Or that is what some ill-intentioned gossips said. Pointing out that the press often gets things wrong, and that she herself was described as having written a movie, when she’d actually adapted it, Ms. Chadwick states that in her opinion, it was probably a flirtation, which may have been used as a decoy to set her husband, the King of France off on the wrong scent. You see, the person that Eleanor was really interested in was Geoffrey’s son Henry, who was thirteen years her junior. The much more famous Henry became not only Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou, he also became Henry II of England. King Louis of France would have done anything to prevent their marriage.

Had he known of it.

Image is a photo I took of Eleanor resting peacefully next to her second husband Henry II, at Fontevraud L’Abbaye in France. An admirer has given her a pink rose.

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