The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick

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Two reasons why I chose this book: my sister raves about it and whilst I’d not been impressed with her earlier books, I was optimistic that the latest novel would be an improvement. After all, it’s readable, historical fiction. This latest work is the first in a trilogy following Eleanor of Aquitaine.

There is no doubt that Elizabeth Chadwick researches around her work; part of the joy of reading historical fiction is the mention of Norman French words or terms of period costume into a paragraph to add authentic flavouring. I was interested in Chadwick’s version of historical events; for example I had envisioned Louis and Eleanor’s relationship as one of duty with Eleanor’s personality as being dominant. Chadwick’s version is a turbulent uphill struggle, believable and sadly typical of renditions of the male and female relationships of the day.

My only issue is the occasional slips into foreshadowing. When I wrote an essay on why William Rufus became King of England, I examined the temptation of the 21st century viewer to psychologise history. It is enticing, naturally, because we know what happens. Predominantly she succeeded, but as soon as Henry II appears, the foreshadowing which has been shimmering up until now becomes brazen much to my chagrin.

What the good historical author must do is hold that in check because historical fiction is about the brooks that feed the river. Too often – and not helped by Philippa Gregory’s crusade of dun-dun-dun! books I am sad to say – historical fiction is centred on a date or event, often nothing really to do with the story being told. My guess is that it is to give the reader access, but surely the access is in the story within history, not a shallow pool that we all too easily to see the bottom of. We do not know what will happen in our futures, I doubt the historical figures in Chadwick’s books knew either.

 

by Bryony Noble