I’m normally a huge fan of Alison Weir’s books, both the straight history and the historical fiction, but I didn’t enjoy her latest book, Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine, as much as her others.
Eleanor of Acquitaine was a fascinating woman, and led an incredible life being married to two kings, mother to three kings, having 11 children and outliving most of them, being by all accounts and incredibly intelligent and savvy ruler in her own right, and so forth. In her novel, Weir focuses primarily on Eleanor’s marriages, but primarily on the sexual aspects thereof rather than the interpersonal aspects, which I think is why I didn’t care as much for the book. Eleanor’s marriage to Henry II was apparently quite passionate and the relationship was complex and fraught with drama, so I understand Weir’s choice to focus on it as the dominant thread of the narrative, but as I read the book I kept feeling like I was caught in a grocery store romance novel because of the way she chose to detail scene after scene after scene after scene of the sort you’d expect to find in a grocery store novel, but without any apparent advancement of the plot.
I know, we’ve been over this, but I do get sick of repetitive intimacy scenes that don’t do anything to shed light on the story, especially when I wanted to know more about other aspects of Eleanor’s life. I think I would have enjoyed the book more had it been shorter and less repetitive.
That said, Weir is unmatched in the quality of her research, her writing is of very high caliber, and this is a really interesting period in history, so if you can handle a lot of repetitive bedroom detail without getting bored or if you know in advance that you can really skim most of it, the rest of the book is worth it for the historical understanding you’d gain. If you don’t feel like you want to wade through it, Weir also wrote a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine that I plan to read for the sake of comparison, and you might prefer the less fictionalized approach.
In any case, don’t give up on Weir just based on this review – overall I think her books are amazing and would recommend any of her other works without hesitation.
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