BOOK REVIEWS

Eleanor of Aquitaine: The Young Life (The Eleanor Code Book 1)

WRITTEN BY MARK RICHARD BEAULIEU

REVIEW BY STEVE DONOGHUE


“It is the beginning of her story, and the Aquitaine, indeed the world, will never be the same.”


The lush, prosperous land of Aquitaine, the wealthiest province in Europe in the 12th century, provides the crucially exceptional backdrop for the story Mark Beaulieu sets out to tell. The story of the childhood of the Aquitaine’s most famous historical resident, the young woman who would go on to become both Queen of France and Queen of England, but who would be known to history as Eleanor of Aquitaine.


In Beaulieu’s novel, the first in his ambitious Eleanor Code sequence, we meet a sunny, willful, already unconventional young Alienor long before the decades of her fame, at a period of her life that should provide little or no inherent drama, and yet Beaulieu manages, through a combination of quick pacing, vivid dialogue, and a consistently strong insight into the world of the mental origins of what would become the concept of courtly love, to make the story every bit as interesting as the more dramatic later periods of her life.


A genuinely involving read.

1

Eleanor of Aquitaine: The Journey East

WRITTEN BY MARK RICHARD BEAULIEU

REVIEW BY STEVE DONOGHUE


Mark Richard Beaulieu’s ongoing series of historical novels about that much-storied historical figure, Eleanor of Aquitaine, continues in The Journey East.   This instalment spotlights her marriage to King Louis VII of France, her ongoing tangles with the French court, and, in the book’s dramatic set-piece, Louis’ decision to take her with him as he goes 3000 miles to the Holy Land in order to liberate Jerusalem from the Saracens in the Second Crusade.


Devoting 500 pages to a period of Eleanor’s life that most of her other biographers leave comfortably in the past is something of a gamble; most readers will be expecting the Eleanor they know best, the wife of Henry II of England, the rival of Fair Rosamund, the mother of kings. What Beaulieu gives us instead is the making of that legend out of one intelligent, passionate, beautiful young woman (as she encounters an expertly well-conceived cast of secondary characters). This series is taking its time reaching that most famous period in its subject’s life, and it’s doing so with such skill that readers will only want more.

2

Eleanor of Aquitaine: The Voyage West

WRITTEN BY MARK RICHARD BEAULIEU

REVIEW BY STEVE DONOGHUE


Beaulieu’s meticulously detailed, hugely readable “Eleanor Code” series continues in its serialized fictional narrative of the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine with this latest volume, which finds the beautiful young Eleanor married to pious milksop King Louis of France when he decides to go on Crusade to liberate Edessa. Louis and Eleanor bring a vast force (most of which Louis will later squander) to the Outremer, and Eleanor is brought into contact with her charismatic uncle Raymond, ruler of the neighboring state of Antioch.


The Crusade is disastrous for the French, and Beaulieu skillfully narrates both the hot chaos of the battlefield and the intricate political labyrinths that – then as now – characterize the clash of cultures and faiths in the region. The book’s cast of characters is extensive, and it’s the author’s great gift to bring all of them to life – although none more so than Eleanor herself, here no longer the naive girl of earlier volumes but rather a seasoned rule r, as sharp and decisive as her husband is wishy-washy. When at one point a fellow queen tells Eleanor “Men play chess, a game forbidden to women, but we run a game of castles, a far more difficult game,” Beaulieu’s readers will believe it. All three books (thus far) in this series are highly recommended

3

Eleanor of Aquitaine: The Generation (The Eleanor Code, Book 4)

WRITTEN BY MARK RICHARD BEAULIEU

REVIEW BY STEVE DONOGHUE


The fourth volume in Beaulieu’s ongoing fictional retelling of the life of the renowned and much-storied 12th-century Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine finds our colorful heroine at age 27, nearing the end of her marriage to the French King Louis, when her life – and all subsequent history – is suddenly complicated by the handsome and charismatic teenager Henri of Anjou, who quickly enters a passionate relationship with Eleanor and promises to make her Queen of England.


To many of his readers, this will all be fairly familiar territory, with forceful, frustrated Henri plotting with Thomas Beckett and vying against England’s entrenched King Stephen (and Eleanor everywhere behind the scenes, orchestrating victories and plotting with a skill and dexterity that far surpasses the men around her), but Beaulieu continues to bring the old stories vividly to life. Dozens of aspects of the 12th century are dramatized in these pages, and the portrait of Eleanor continues to deepen with each successive volume. Highly recommended.

4

V18