For my third and final book of the Royal Reviews Historical Fiction Challenge, I read Power of a Woman, Memoirs of a Turbulent Life: Eleanor of Aquitaine by Robert Fripp.
Eleanor was (to the best of my knowledge and a quick Google search) the only woman ever to really, truly be Queen of both England and France. (Several French and English monarchs claimed to be the "real" head of the other country--e.g. Mary Queen of Scots and France called herself Queen of England at times just to goad Elizabeth I of England--but Eleanor was the only woman to actually exercise power as Queen in both countries.) Basically what happened was that Eleanor--who was the duchess of Aquitaine, and therefore a large, rich French landowner--was married to the French King Louis VII for several years. They eventually grew apart, and--more importantly--didn't have a son, so they were divorced. Shortly afterward, she married Henry II of England. They had several children together, including Kings Richard and John of "Robin Hood" fame.
Given all of that, you would expect the story of her life to be pretty thrilling, and it is...just not as it's told in this book. It's a little sad really. The author tried to write this from the point of view of Eleanor, old and dying, dictating her memoirs to a young girl. Before choosing this book, I read several reviews that raved about how the author (a man) had done a wonderful job of capturing the voice of this medieval woman. Um, not so much. It's a little hard to explain, but this wasn't the voice of woman. It was the voice of a man trying to write a woman--a subtle difference maybe, but one that ruined the whole premise for me.
And, even further, the telling of the story is so dry. The author's "Eleanor" tells her story as if she's reading a history book about herself. There's nothing about her personal relationships with her two husbands, no details about the quirks and personalities of her children. I mean, here you have a woman who was in a position to observe and interact with some of the most fascinating characters in European history, and the author doesn't even try to imagine anything about their day to day lives--no conversations, no odd habits, nothing! What's the point of writing historical fiction if you're not going to do anything but present the bare facts?
I wish I knew of a good book about Eleanor to recommend in place of this one, because she really was incredible. Anyone (cough, cough, Kathy) have any ideas?
Although I'm kind of sad to end on such a sour note (and take down Mr. Darcy here), this marks the end of the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. To recap, in addition to this not-so-good book, I re-read two of my very favorites--I, Elizabeth,by Rosalind Miles and Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles, by Margaret George. Thanks to the ladies at Royal Reviews for hosting!