The Summer Queen is the first novel in Elizabeth Chadwick’s trilogy on Eleanor of Aquitaine. Beginning in 1137, Chadwick introduces Eleanor just before the loss of her father and the realisation that she was the sole heiress to the duchy of Aquitaine, and thus extremely desirable to noble families.
By beginning her novel with such a young Eleanor, Chadwick is able to develop her character and demonstrate how she grew to be one of the most admirable Queens of England. Events early in Eleanor’s life certainly would have shaped her future behaviour and despite little evidence remaining detailing her life and thoughts, it is abundantly clear that Elizabeth Chadwick has done her research. The way the characters think and act are utterly believable and hook the reader in. I particularly enjoyed her exploration of Petronella, Eleanor’s younger sister, as I feel she is often overlooked.
Another benefit to starting Eleanor’s story early, is that it allows her to dedicate this novel to her marriage to Louis, King of France. Chadwick explores their relationship expertly and describes his temperamental character well. Their dynamic changes regularly and the way Chadwick describes each character’s thoughts really draws in readers and creates a connection between he two – I was genuinely concerned about what happened to them. By following their Crusade to the Holy Land, Chadwick is also able to illustrate her interpretation of the court gossip that Eleanor was a tad flighty and was unfaithful to her husband. She explains her reasoning for not writing that Eleanor had an affair with her uncle Raymond in Antioch in her Author’s note at the end of the book. This again demonstrates her passion and need to follow as closely to the history as she can whilst creating engaging and vivid historical fiction.
The only negatives I found with this novel is that sometimes Chadwick will use words that are perhaps too modern for the period she is writing about and I found it slightly jarring whilst hungrily devouring the story. However, this soon becomes less noticeable as the story continues. Additionally, although the chapters were dated it was difficult to sense time passing. This novel spans seventeen years and sees Eleanor grow from an innocent child into a confident, intelligent woman and Queen, yet I found it difficult to remember how much time has passed. Of course not every day of her life was extraordinary and in need of description yet by skipping a period of time you don’t get the same depth. The characters perhaps don’t evolve with time and that is why it is difficult to recognise that they’ve aged considerably. However, the writing is so captivating and interesting that this is almost forgotten. You can definitely see the difference in Eleanor’s character toward the end of the novel, when the future Henry II of England enters the story. As nine years Eleanor’s junior, the age gap is more apparent and thus readers are reminded of how far Eleanor has developed and grown.
Overall, this book was thoroughly enjoyable. I couldn’t wait until my lunch hour so I could read the next chapter and my evenings were spent curled up on my sofa eagerly reading. I was left wanting more, and I am now looking forward to reading the sequel, The Winter Crown.
You can buy The Summer Queen here.