Thursday, April 29, 2010

Review: The Queen's Pawn

Summary: A historical novel of the legendary Eleanor of Aquitaine and the one person she loved more than power-her rival for the throne.

At only nine, Princess Alais of France is sent to live in England until she is of age to wed Prince Richard, son of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. Alais is an innocent pawn on the chessboard of dynastic marriage, her betrothal intended to broker an uneasy truce between the nations.

Estranged from her husband, Eleanor sees a kindred spirit in this determined young girl. She embraces Alais as a daughter, teaching the princess what it takes to be a woman of power in a world of men. But as Alais grows to maturity and develops ambitions of her own, Eleanor begins to see her as a threat-and their love for each other becomes overshadowed by their bitter rivalry, dark betrayals, conflicting passions, and a battle for revenge over the throne of England itself.

I have been reading my fair share of historical fiction lately, and I have to admit that I think I've just about hit my limit. After awhile, some of the stories about kings and queens tend to run together for me. However, one book that I recently enjoyed was THE QUEEN'S PAWN by Christy English; and I do think the author brought something fresh and original to her novel.

THE QUEEN'S PAWN tells the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her "adopted" daughter Princess Alais of France. I was somewhat familiar with Eleanor's story (because of my historical fiction reads, not because I know anything about history), but Alais was a new character for me. There is no doubt that the author had plenty of material with the character of Eleanor. I found her actions -- both the good and the bad -- to be absolutely fascinating.

I thoroughly enjoyed how Ms. English portrayed these characters of Eleanor and Alais, and I especially appreciated the dynamics of their complex relationship. In so many ways, there were many of the elements of a classic mother/daughter story. Alais never knew her mother so she was desperately looking for a mother figure, and Eleanor found herself immediately falling in love with the young Alais. And while both women were deeply devoted to each other and probably best friends, their relationship definitely had its fair share of ups and downs. I think part of the reason for this complex relationship was because they were so much alike.

When Alais grows up and becomes a threat to Eleanor, the dynamics of their relationship take a sudden turn. I really appreciated how the author portrayed their relationship because it was so complex, and it was probably my favorite part of the novel. There is no doubt that both women loved each other; and yet, they also demonstrated a tremendous amount of deception and jealousy. I was definitely curious about how the events and their relationship would finally be resolved.

I liked that Ms. English decided to tell Eleanor's and Alais' stories in their first person voices. The chapters alternated between the two characters, and I loved getting each character's opinion of the events. Both were incredibly smart and manipulative women, and I found their behavior to be very entertaining. I thought Ms. English did a great job of capturing their separate and distinct voices. I also thought the transitions between the characters was very smooth and easy to follow.

One thing that I really appreciated about Ms. English's novel was her notes in the Afterword. As someone who really doesn't know much about history, I tend to use historical fiction as my "history class." I rarely know what is based on the facts and what is entirely made up. I really like that the author took the time to explain what parts of Eleanor's and Alais' story were less than factual. And while there is no doubt that she did take a lot of liberties with their stories, at least I knew what I was reading. I felt as if I could truly appreciate how she incorporated the fictional aspects with the facts, and I understood her reasons for doing so.

THE QUEEN'S PAWN would make for a very interesting book club discussion mainly because of the relationship between Eleanor and Alias. These two women were definitely dynamos! There is a reading guide in the back of the book -- here's the link. I thought the questions brought up some interesting points. Some of the topics that you might want to explore include religion and the church, mother-daughter relationships, love, marriage, adultery, and forgiveness.

I think fans of historical fiction will definitely want to take a look at THE QUEEN'S PAWN.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this novel. Make sure you check out Ms. English's guest post for my Book Club Exchange feature.


bermudaonion said...

It sounds like mother-daughter relationships have never been easy! Great review!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I really like stories about Eleanor, but ever since the movie I can't think of her as anyone but Katherine Hepburn!

Unknown said...

I have only read Philippa Gregory's historical fiction of this type, and I haven't ventured into any other author's world yet. I think I'll give this one a try! Great review!

Jen (Devourer of Books) said...

I love Eleanor of Aquitaine! Alais really doesn't tend to get much face time, except as Richard's fiance and Henry's (possible) paramour. I may have to check this out.

S. Krishna said...

A fresh voice in historical fiction? I'm sold! :-)