It feels bloody awful good when you finish an epic novel. Epic, I mean in regards to length of book. I don’t regret taking the time to read this large book (about 740 pages) because this is one of the best novels I’ve read.
When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman features the beginnings of the Plantagenet dynasty. It features the bloody war that raged England between Stephen and his cousin Maude. Stephen steals the crown after King Henry the First’s death from Maude, who’s the rightful heir to the throne of England. With that main event, you get a lot of war, a lot of betrayal, and a lot of family struggles to keep the crown, or to take it.
I strongly recommend studying the family tree first which is gratefully provided in the beginning of the book. That way you can find it who is related to who (you’ll find out they are all related somehow) and who is married to who. It may help you to take notes so you’ll also know who is who as it does get confusing. Especially in the beginning just when the story starts to develop. There are a lot, and I mean A LOT of characters. It may seem overwhelming at first, but the family tree helped me get through with it and although I didn’t take notes, I got the main idea on who’s who once the story progresses. To me, it felt like reading a very exciting history book. It feels so historically accurate and everything is rich in detail from the way the characters talk to the way everything is described.
The battle sequences are interesting. They do seem real and they seem quick even though the book is filled with battles and wars and seiges. I like them a lot though as it does make you progress through the novel faster and it adds action to the plot. The politics of this book is also interesting. Although there were parts where I was shocked to see betrayals by certain characters yet it adds excitement and intrigue which in turn makes the book historically accurate as well. Besides the battles and the politics, you are also taken to some of the characters’ more personal lives and their personal troubles. For example you have the story of Ranulf, who loves Annora who was his betrothed until she got married off to someone else. In turn he does what he can to win her back. It’s these mini stories that also help the story go along and it’s nice to see these, as it brings more “flesh” and depth to the characters instead of making them flat and cardboard like.
What I love the most is the portrayal of women in this book. I love Maude, as she was so strong and determined to continue the war to get her crown back and all of this for her son Henry (the second). You get a lot of strong female characters and how they actually provided the backbone and their never ending support to their husband/son’s causes. I liked the portrayal of Eleanor of Aquitaine despite the myths surrounding her life, I think it was well done and I admired her ability to secure her future without any thought of how others might see her. Basically, you won’t see many weepy needy women in this book. They’re all a beacon of strength.
The only problem I have with this book? just way too many characters to go through and it got a little confusing in the beginning. However once you establish the main players, and how they’re involved in the war then it gets easier. As I have mentioned before, perhaps it’s wise to take notes, or to take into account the family tree in the beginning.
Overall a wonderful book for historical buffs out there, especially those curious or lovers of the Plantagenet Dynasty. This is my first book about them and I don’t regret it one bit. I loved the rich history, it was like looking at one very detailed tapestry.
I give it an 8 out of 10.