When Christ and His Saints Slept

If you are looking for a historical novel about the civil war that trashed England while Henry I’s children Maude and Stephen fought for the throne, and if you don’t mind a book that’s 784 pages long, I might suggest When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman.

Or, I might not.  The book wasn’t poorly written, but I think Alison Weir and Hilary Mantel have spoiled me for historical fiction, because I found myself somewhat disappointed with Penman’s effort.  In her defense, the years covered in the book were complicated, with lots of back and forth and taking and losing of the same castles over and over again, but I felt like the writing wasn’t very tight, and that starts to wear on you when you’re reading a 784 page book, you know?  I also thought that the historical language attempts were spotty.  Tossing in a “for certes” here and there doesn’t do a lot to transport me to the twelfth century, and should probably have been skipped.  Again though, I probably only noticed because of how masterfully Weird and Mantel handle that sort of thing.

I kept reading the book because I’m genuinely interested in the time period, plus I happened to start reading the book just as we started covering the time period in our homeschool history.  At first I considered letting Hannah read it because it seemed fairly clean, but there are enough adult situations (mercifully not too many lascivious details, but still) that I decided against it.  [Side note: I do wish I could find more clean historical fiction to suggest for her because she loves it, so if you know of any please send suggestions my way!]

If you’re really into British history you’d probably enjoy this book enough to warrant the length commitment of When Christ and His Saints Slept, but if you’re not terribly interested I’d suggest something by Alison Weir or Hilary Mantel instead.

What setting or time period do you most love to read about?


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3 thoughts on “When Christ and His Saints Slept

  1. I’ve been reading about Stephen vs Maud/Matilda struggle lately, too. The Cadfael mystery series by Ellis Peters is set during that time. The ones I’ve read are pretty clean – the main character is a monk, after all! The first few chapters of each book are confusing and difficult to get through, then the books pick up steam and draw you in. They are more a capsule of that time than about Stephen & Maud in particular though.

    700+ page books are very difficult to write or read. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that long that kept me engaged til the end. I tried Edward Rutherford recently, with an 820-something page novel about the history of Ireland. It was good for the first 300 pages then began dragging and confusing me. I will read another of his someday because I learned something, but…. I’m not raring at the bit. 😉

  2. I’ve had this book on my TBR list for years, and have even checked it out from the library a couple of times. So far though, the length has kept me from starting it – it’s just such a commitment! Is it worth reading this one when I could easily finish 2 or 3 other books in the same time?

    Still not sure. I do love British history so it might be worth it.
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  3. This is not my favorite of her books (the here be dragons trilogy is- even though that’s technically 3 books), but I will always be grateful to Penman for these books. I was a super late bloomer to the idea that non-required reading could be fun and the trilogy mentioned above, along with jane austen, is what made me a reader. This book, however, was a bit of a slog, and i’m pretty sure i’ve never actually finished it.

    I completely agree about the “for certes,” it’s an issue in all her books.

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