The Secret Eleanor by Cecelia Holland

The Secret Eleanor by Cecelia Holland(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

1151: As Duchess of Aquitaine, Eleanor grew up knowing what it was to be regarded for herself and not for her husband’s title. Now, as wife to Louis VII and Queen of France, she has found herself unsatisfied with reflected glory-and feeling constantly under threat, even though she outranks every woman in Paris.

Then, standing beside her much older husband in the course of a court ceremony, Eleanor locks eyes with a man-hardly more than a boy, really- across the throne room, and knows that her world has changed irrevocably…

He is Henry D’Anjou, eldest son of the Duke of Anjou, and he is in line, somewhat tenuously, for the British throne. She meets him in secret. She has a gift for secrecy, for she is watched like a prisoner by spies even among her own women. She is determined that Louis must set her free. Employing deception and disguise, seduction and manipulation, Eleanor is determined to find her way to power-and make her mark on history.

How do you turn a woman who left an incredible mark on history by daring to choose her husband, who set a new standard for women in power into a shallow, conniving, backstabbing, whiny little girl?  After reading The Secret Eleanor I’m still not too sure, but Cecelia Holland somehow managed it.

As you’ve probably guessed, this book was a complete letdown.  I expected to admire Eleanor because in history she really was a strong, intelligent and cunning woman.  I didn’t expect the whiny, self-centred creature that Cecelia Holland portrayed her as.  How could this woman have done half of the things she did in real life if she was as Holland imagines her?  Answer: she couldn’t and that’s why her portrayal falls flat.

There has to be a strong suspension of disbelief to finish this book because we learn that Eleanor while Eleanor was pregnant with Henry’s child her sister Petronilla impersonated her.  This I highly doubt.  Sisters can look alike, it’s true, but very rarely can someone truly copy another person’s mannerisms and vocal patterns.  Even when they’re close sisters.  Honestly, if this scenario had been true, someone would have noticed and outed the whole conspiracy.  As it was, everyone within Eleanor’s inner circle knew so it’s pretty safe to say that in real life, someone would have squealed.

I could look past the implausible scenario if the rest of the book was well written, but it was not.  The plot seems to jump all over the place as we follow the different characters through their journeys.  Claire, the young maidservant, randomly seems to get quite a bit of page time in the last third of the book.  Eleanor all but disappears from the narrative as Petronilla takes over her role.  Sometimes there seems to be neither rhyme nor reason as to why Cecelia Holland changed points of view other than in a desperate attempt to move the plot along.  It didn’t work.

Basically, if you’re even vaguely interested in Eleanor of Aquitaine this book is not for you.  I honestly wish I hadn’t wasted my money on it.

I give this book 1/5 stars.

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