The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Eleanor of Aquitaine is a 12th century icon who has fascinated readers for 800 years. But the real Eleanor remains elusive.

This 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.

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 . . .

Seeing as I really don’t know much about Eleanor of Aquitaine I’m not qualified to comment on the historical accuracy but I think it’s pretty exciting that The Summer Queen is based on new research into Eleanor’s life, including the fact that she was married at the tender age of 13.  Also within this book, Chadwick uses the way Eleanor herself actually spelled her name: Alienor.  It gives it a more authentic feeling and gives a little more recognition to the real historical figure that’s the centre of this novel.

First off, I was very impressed with the character of Alienor.  She’s a very complicated person, much like the real historical figure.  Her childhood was fairly carefree in Aquitaine but when her father died when she was a pre-teen, life definitely changed for the worst for her.  She initially was enraptured with Louis when she married him at age 13 but throughout the story she becomes understandably frustrated with the utter lack of passion in her marriage.  Louis really would have made a better monk than a husband, as she quips at one point.  So in a bid to get out from underneath her overbearing mother-in-law and her bossy, stuffy husband she rebels in small ways by bringing bits of Aquitaine with her to court including its bright fashions and beautiful music.  I liked how she desperately tried to find happiness despite an objectively terrible situation and when she actually achieved some measure of happiness after her divorce, she desperately clung to it.  Having experienced years of misery, I really don’t blame her.  She had to grow up pretty fast and had a pretty rough life up until she met and married Henry of Anjou.  Even then, her happiness is only temporary.

The plot is not very fast-paced I must admit and I did struggle at some points.  What saves The Summer Queen is Elizabeth Chadwick’s writing style, which both lends an air of authenticity to the work and makes things interesting enough to get readers through the long travel sections (particularly the section where Alienor is on the crusade with Louis).  Sometimes even then the pacing drags the book down, however.  But the book is interesting enough in general to get you through those really slow sections and to the very exciting events of Alienor’s life.  She really was an incredible woman who was not allowed to be all that incredible until she achieved the legal independence she craved.  Alienor definitely chafed under the expectations put upon her in France, especially since she was such a strong-willed and passionate woman.  Even if you can’t get past the slow pacing, I thin kthe character of Alienor really carries the day.

Again, I can’t speak for the historical accuracy of this novel but I do believe Chadwick did more than enough research to lend an air of authenticity to the text.  She has this way of writing that puts you right there along with Alienor from the beauty of Aquitaine to her brutal trip slogging through hostile territory to get to the Holy Land.  She does admit to speculating about an affair between Alienor and one of her vassals because it cannot be proven but I feel she made a strong enough case to her readers so it didn’t feel like she was adding in intrigue for intrigue’s sake.  I am a little skeptical of all that she has written because she uses “the Akashic Records…to fill in the blanks and explore what happened in the past from a psychic perspective.”  That’s a little, um…unconventional…for me but she at least justifies her choices with more reliable historical records.  That’s why I’m not going to say that her research is 100% reliable, both because I know so little about the period and the fact she uses a ‘psychic perspective’.

Her research methods aside, The Summer Queen is a great read even though it does drag in sections.  The character of Alienor really does shine through and I think that if you love historical fiction and want to learn more about the famous queen, this is definitely a good book to pick up.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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