Published: 2014 by Sphere | Pages: 483 | Review Copy (NetGalley)
An extraordinary woman. A legendary queen.
In 1154, Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most powerful women in Europe, is crowned queen of England beside her young husband Henry II. While Henry battles their enemies and lays his plans, Eleanor is an adept acting ruler and mother to their growing brood of children. But she yearns for more than this – if only Henry would listen.
Instead, Henry pushes Eleanor to the sidelines, involving himself with a young mistress and denying Eleanor her rightful authority. As matters reach a crisis, Eleanor becomes caught up in a family rebellion. And even a queen must face the consequences of treason…
I am a sucker for historical fiction. As a massive Philippa Gregory fan, I was immediately drawn to ‘The Winter Crown’ by Elizabeth Chadwick as I sensed it would be just the sort of book I love. I definitely wasn’t wrong. Thanks to Little Brown Book Group, I was able to read ‘The Winter Crown’ for free on my kindle via netgalley.
I’d never read any medieval historical fiction before, so I had to mentally stop thinking about Henry VIII as I was reading, but I got into the story immediately. The descriptions of contextual settings bring the novel alive. Chadwick is so detailed with regards to creating atmosphere that the reader can easily picture the scene being portrayed at any one time through the novel. As you begin reading there is a great sense of hope and power within the narrative. You really become part of Alienor’s journey with King Henry; I felt the joy that she felt when she was crowned, the heartbreak of grief and the bitterness of betrayal.
Regarding plot, I felt that it moved in a generic, but comfortable direction. Chadwick looked at the main issues found within a Queen’s life, as well as ‘Kings-in-waiting’. I believe that I learnt a very telling lesson from this book – it seems that Henry II’s life was very similar to Henry VII’s (without the multiple marriages of course!) Both Henry’s faced problems with the Church, both seemed to be obsessed with making sure all of Europe was dominated by the English throne, and ultimately, it seems neither had any regard for women. Henry II actually tells his bastard brother Hamelin that all women are indeed ‘whores’, including Hamelin’s beloved wife Isabel. At this point, admittedly near the end of the novel, I was totally disgusted by this portrayal of Henry II, and to be honest, Hamelin wasn’t sitting much higher in my estimations.
I really enjoyed reading about the relationship between Alienor and Isabel (her eventual sister-in-law). I felt this duo helped to balance and calm moments of madness within the text. I was very fond of Isabel’s character as she seemed to have a very fair manner about her, something Henry certainly lacked!
I loved how Chadwick managed to translate the confusing nature of betrothal and ‘planned marriages’ for political gain into the story and made it interesting. The slow pairings of Alienor and Henry’s children to various foreign princes and princesses fascinated me. I really want to look into medieval royalty a lot closer after reading this!
I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The characters were emotive and diverse while the plot was exciting and fast-paced. I cannot wait for the third instalment to be released in 2016. A huge five-star read for me.