Elizabeth Chadwick's The Summer Queen is the first in a planned trilogy on Alienor of Aquitaine (popularly known as Eleanor), and having just finished it, I can hardly contain my enthusiasm for this novel. I always love Chadwick's books, but I sort of wondered what else could be added to the story to make it more engaging. It's my pleasure to say that not only does this novel deliver, it does so beautifully, bringing life to characters and events in vivid detail. I'm blown away.
The Summer Queen takes us through the years Alienor was married to Louis of France and into the first blush of her marriage with Henry of England. Alienor, duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, finds herself continually putting her own feelings and needs aside as her overly pious first husband disappoints her again and again. Chadwick takes us through it all: the births of unwelcome daughters, the arduous Crusade, the loss of freedom, and the desperation to end an untenable marriage. Alienor often follows her heart, and she's not written as a saint by any means. What does come through is her indomitable spirit and her determination to protect and advance Aquitaine at any cost. It's evident that Alienor is a passionate woman strapped to a man who becomes more priggish and overbearing as the years pass, and it's easy to see how she felt when first encountering young Henry, the polar opposite of puckered Louis. Part of me wanted to yell at her, to warn her of what's ahead, but most of me just wanted to luxuriate alongside her while she's enjoying herself.
There simply aren't enough words for me to express how much I enjoyed this novel; knowing it would be good because it was by Chadwick, I had no idea I'd become thoroughly engrossed as I was. I even found myself slowing down in my reading just so I could spend more time inside the world brought to life. Alienor's motivations for her actions and her strongly held emotions are vibrantly brought to life against a background where the Church was all and women were expected to do as they were told. If it's possible, Alienor is even more of a personal heroine for me now after having read Chadwick's excellent novel. Highly recommended.