Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Young Lion

Twelfth century Europe, particularly England and what is now France, was a turbulent time politically with battles externally and internally for power and land. Blanche D'Alphuget, in The Young Lion, has written the first of a proposed quartet of books on the life of Henry II, son of the Empress Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou and the great grandson of William the Conqueror. This volume focuses on the struggle leading to Henry gaining the English throne.

The novel begins when Eleanor of Acquitaine and King Louis VII return from the Second Crusade to their home in Paris. Their political marriage is not a success as Eleanor has only had two daughters and therefore not produced an heir to the throne. After her divorce from Louis she married Henry in another political marriage. During the book Henry is engaged in a number of battles to protect the land he has legally inherited as well as the land believed to have been taken from his family when Stephen took the throne of England instead of his mother. Marrying Eleanor also brought additional lands and money into the family.

Henry, Eleanor, Matilda and Geoffrey were all powerful characters in their own right and other prominent figures in history are also introduced throughout the plot, but as this is a work of fiction the author introduces additional characters to the story, including Eleanor's maid, Xena. She also refers to a half-brother of Henry named William who is involved in his early adventures. Henry had a brother, Guillaume (William), who was three years younger than Henry. The author introduces a character, Lady Isabella, as the mother of this child, William. Henry's father did have a number of recorded illegitimate children including a son, Hamelein, who was three years older than Henry. The William in the story is possibly another fictional creation. Both Xena (later known as Rachael), William and Isabella have prominent roles in this novel.

The book is generally easy to read (skim through) as a story though I found the often flowery passages, especially in the descriptions of the relationships between the characters, not to my taste but romantic fiction is not one of my favourite genres. The book however does introduce the reader to a colourful period of history and hopefully may encourage readers to investigate what really happened during this time and the lives of the historical characters portrayed in this work of fiction.

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