Alison Weir writes fabulous historical biographies; over the years I’ve read 8 or 10 of them and they’ve always been enlightening. But recently, she turned her hand to fiction (well, with all that knowledge and writing ability, why not?) and the results have been… questionable. Her book on Lady Jane was okay, on Elizabeth it was really quite good. But this one, apparently the book she always wanted to write on Eleanor of Aquitaine, was really very poor. Aside from the fact that it told her story in chronological order, it just did nothing very much at all.
Eleanor is a fascinating character and The Captive Queen could have been great. Eleanor’s life was incredibly dramatic; mother of Richard the Lionheart and ‘Bad’ King John, married to the Henry who restored order to England after the war between Stephen and Matilda and an heiress and ruler of much of what is now France in her own right. Oh my, she had a life.
Unfortunately, Weir reduced this to constant crudely dealt with sex scenes, endless drivelling about infidelity and hurt and far too much “and then we went” detail – relevant in a biography, but unnecessary in a novel. What this book needed was a damn good edit – it felt like a first draft, or one by someone now famous enough to get away with length of word count, not quality of writing. The characters were flat and tiresome, with little development and no depth.
The trouble with this era is that is is done far, FAR better by Elizabeth Chadwick. Her bit part portrayals of Henry, Eleanor and the sons are far superior and she has done fantastic novels with William Marshall and Matilda just jumping off the page. Both felt flat and intimidated in this book, like Weir knew those books and felt constrained by them and unable to develop scenes with those people in them for fear of… I don’t know? You can’t plagiarise a historical person really.
I’m not sure what the afterword comment along the lines of “this was the novel I wanted to write first but fr obvious reasons I couldn’t” meant. I can’t help wondering if this was rushed out because the Chadwick version is on the way. I suspect it will be much better though.