Title: The Summer Queen
Author: Elizabeth Chadwick
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publish Date: June 2013 (Released on paperback July 1, 2014)
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.
What's the Story?:
From Goodreads.com: "Eleanor of Aquitaine is a 12th century icon who has fascinated readers for 800 years. But the real Eleanor remains elusive.
stunning novel introduces an Eleanor that all other writers have
missed. Based on the most up-to-date research, it is the first novel to
show Eleanor beginning her married life at 13. Barely out of childhood,
this gives an entirely new slant to how Eleanor is treated bv those
around her. She was often the victim and her first marriage was horribly
Overflowing with scandal, passion, triumph and tragedy,
Eleanor's legendary story begins when her beloved father dies in the
summer of 1137, and she is made to marry the young prince Louis of
France. A week after the marriage she becomes a queen and her life will
change beyond recognition."
My Two Cents:
"The Summer Queen" is Elizabeth Chadwick's latest offering in which she takes on Eleanor (spelled Alienor in this book) of Aquitaine, who has absolutely fascinated history lovers and readers for many, many centuries. I know that she is definitely one of my favorite historical figures and I was delighted with this historical fiction take on her astonishing life. This is the first book in a planned series. Right now, Goodreads has this book listed and a book called "The Winter Crown" listed as a part of the series. I am definitely ready to read more of Chadwick's take on Alienor.
This story is not just about Alienor but also about her sister, Petronella, who also lived a very interesting life. I really liked how both of these characters were written. Having two sisters myself, I have always been fascinated by reading about the bonds of sisterhood. I especially liked reading about Alienor and her sister's bond in this book. The book looks at the very young lives of Alienor and her sister and Chadwick really draws us into their lives and we get to know them quite personally. We get to see how they were raised. We also get to see Alienor married off at the age of 13 (it is still amazing to me how young people got married during Alienor's time). She is very young and is trying to cope with a lot. It was interesting to see how she did that.
I loved all of the historical detail in the book and how Chadwick was really able to bring both the time period and the setting to life through her use of historical detail. It really made things feel real. I love when I can clearly picture what is going on in a book and with this one, I had no trouble.
This was a very exciting start to a great series on a fascinating figure!
Interview with the Author:
1. Why do you think people are still so interested in Eleanor of Aquitaine?
I think people are still interested in Eleanor of Aquitaine for a number of reasons. She is one of the more visible medieval personalities with all kinds of drama attached to her. You only have to look at the cult of celebrity these days to see why she exerts such a fascination. Married at 13 and a queen within weeks of her wedding to the 17 year old Louis of France. Reputed to have had an affair with her uncle while on crusade in the holy land. Divorced and then married to one of the most dynamic kings of medieval Europe, the future Henry II. Imprisoned by him when she rebelled against his attempts to control her. Mother to two highly visible medieval Kings – Richard the Lionheart and King John. Eleanor died aged 80, a widely travelled woman who had lived life to the full.
2. What was your research process like for "The Summer Queen?" What is the strangest/ coolest thing you learned during your research?
I had wanted to write about Eleanor for quite a while and I already had a couple of biographies on my bookshelf, so it was a case of reading more books to broaden my understanding and then digging into the primary source history on my own. As well as doing the basic research ahead of the novel, I researched during the writing too. Part of my research process involves a slightly different approach to the usual. I use the services of a lady with the extraordinary ability to see into the past. I use what comes through from her, first testing it against the known history (99% of the time it makes a lot of sense and gels with primary sources ) and then I use the material to help me weave my own narrative path.
I think the coolest thing I discovered was a detail that has evaded the historians. You can read the full article here, http://the-history-girls.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/eleanor-of-aquitaine-and-brother-who_24.html Basically, Eleanor of Aquitaine is supposed to have had an illegitimate half brother called Joscelin, He is mentioned in some English accounts called The Pipe Rolls as having lands in the county of Sussex. The thing is that when I checked out the details, I immediately recognized the Joscelin in question. Sure enough, he was the brother of the queen, but it doesn’t say which queen and it actually turns out to be Adeliza of Louvain, second wife of King Henry the first. But no historian appears to have noticed the fact and it’s been left to a historical novelist to find this out!
3. Do you have a favorite scene in "The Summer Queen?"
That’s a difficult question. I have many favorite scenes! I did, however, especially enjoy writing the meeting between Eleanor and her second husband Henry II. It was great to explore the relationship at this early stage. I know that I have a very different take from most other novelists. You’ll just have to read the book to find out because it would be a spoiler if I told you. Suffice to say that before I came to write the scene where the soon to be divorced Eleanor met the 18 year old Henry of Anjou at the French Court in Paris, I stopped and asked myself some pointed historical questions that are often ignored, not least to do with Henry’s father, Geoffrey le Bel of Anjou. What was the most likely scenario when you looked at it with a practical eye? What did happen in Paris in the closing days of summer 1151?
4. You've written many books now. Has your writing process changed at all?
I started writing at the romantic end of historical fiction and while I always strove to get the background research right, I had control over my protagonists. Now that I am writing about real people I have to follow their story lines and that creates an interesting challenge because the drama has to be married with the history in a way that works for both. I love working that out! My research has deepened and intensified since my very first novels too. I now also re-enact with an early mediaeval living history society and this has added an extra dimension to the research process. Wearing clothes of 12th century design (I have a wool gown where the cloth has been especially woven to an early medieval pattern), handling and using museum quality replicas, helps to bring the research off the page and into 3D. I don’t fight with medieval weapons, but I talk to those who do, and I have tried on their equipment too. I own a sword, helm and shield. It does make a difference to my understanding and the way I write.
5. And now for fun, if you could bring any three historical figures or fictional characters with you to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?
This is probably the question that took me the longest to answer!
I would have to have William Marshal of course! He would have a lifetime of stories to tell and would love recounting them from what I’ve read. He got on well with people and enjoyed socializing and had a marvelous singing voice. He also had practical skills which would come in useful on a desert island and he knew how to be self-sufficient.
My second person would be Lakotah Sioux Medicine man Black Elk. I’d be very interested in what he had to say, and I think William Marshal would enjoy his company too. Again, he’d have a high degree of self sufficiency and his spiritual wisdom would give us much to think about.
My third would be Claire Fraser from the Diana Gabaldon Outlander novels. She is warm, personable, open-minded and practical. I think she’d be a perfect 3rd addition.
Thanks to the publisher, I'm pleased to be able to give away a copy of this fabulous book (U.S./CAN only)!
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