My standards might have been too high for this one to meet. I cannot read the story of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine without having Sharon Kay Penman's novels in the back of my mind. Chadwick's version has a different focus, so far, looking at Eleanor as a young girl and Queen of France, so that was a point in its favor.
While a time of anarchy reigned in England, Eleanor was a pampered heiress of the southern duchy of Aquitaine. Her father arranged what should have been a glorious match with Louis, future king of France. Unfortunately, things did not go quite as planned.
Chadwick tends to be a little too focused on romance for my taste, and this was no exception. I managed to get through the sex scenes featuring teenaged Eleanor and Louis, but the steamy scenes between the (was she even teenaged?) Petronella and her senior citizen lover were a little stomach turning. Poor Petra is continuously overshadowed by her more glamorous older sister and repeatedly compared to their grandmother, Dangereuse, who is frequently mentioned though she never appears.
I was happy to get to the portion of the story where Eleanor and Louis went on Crusade, and it was more enjoyable. The descriptions of the court at Constantinople and Antioch immerse the reader in the sights, sounds, and tastes of the medieval world. The relationship between Eleanor and her uncle Raymond was well done.
Louis and Eleanor's relationship deteriorates with him turning to his advisers and the church and she losing patience with him. At times, Eleanor appears to be exactly the manipulative woman that Louis's mother was afraid she was, but her plans fall apart time and time again, including her initial attempt to rid herself of Louis.
I was excited for the story to begin including Henry, well, because he's Henry. However, he was almost too practically perfect in every way compared to all of Louis's faults. His entrance to the story also, unfortunately, included many more bedroom scenes. During these scenes we are repeatedly reminded that it is only lust between them as they hardly know each other, and Eleanor has an odd habit of bringing up her scandalous grandparents while in bed. Instead of enjoying this part of the story, I found myself beginning to skim just to get to the end.
I already have The Winter Crown which begins with Henry becoming Henry II, so I will continue to follow Eleanor to England and the challenges her second marriage will bring.