THE PLOT: The Summer Queen is an in-depth novel about the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Starting with her betrothal to Prince Louis of France in 1137, it follows her move to the French court and rule as Queen. A wealthy heiress, Eleanor is not allowed to rule her territories alone so this strategic alliance is supposed to be beneficial, but her marriage breaks down rapidly. Ultimately, the novel is about a young woman who must assert her intelligence and right to rule.
RATING: This novel deserves four stars because it’s an impressive, holistic dramatisation of Eleanor’s life. The hours of research that must’ve been poured into this novel is astonishing, yet the storyline is completely captivating. It’s hugely complex so I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone new to historical fiction, but it’s certainly up there with the greats.
GOOD BITS: I particularly enjoyed the section where Eleanor and her husband go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Many historical novels in this period focus on Europe and miss out the importance of eastern kingdoms, such as Antioch, Constantinople, Damascus and Sicily. The pilgrimage managed to add these glimpses of other cultures (though they are not at the fore, the book isn’t very diverse and there’s a few stereotypes), which made the novel more unique and vivid.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: At first, I found the level of detail cumbersome and was scared this would slow down the pace. For example, the description details the colour of each gem and feel of each glove and the light from each candle etc. However, I quickly got used to this rich writing style and it wasn’t too much of an issue. In the end, I liked how the metaphors and similes were completely in keeping with Eleanor’s (likely) experiences and world view.
Additionally, there was a romantic side plot during the pilgrimage that I didn’t find 100% convincing. The author explains the historical details behind this in her note, and admits its complete fiction as there isn’t much evidence to back it up. I found it slightly implausible (trust me, when you read it, you’ll understand what I’m referring to).
OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction who already have a decent knowledge of Medieval kings and queens. To encapsulate its complexity, there are three genealogies at the start of the novel yet I feel like they could’ve added a fourth! If you don’t have a basic knowledge of English kings (William the Conqueror, Stephen, Henry V etc.) and the different territories of France (Normandy, Brittany, Anjou, Aquitaine etc.) it will be quite confusing. There are simpler historical novels to introduce you to the world and genre. However, if you’re a nerd like me who has already read (and enjoyed) a few books in this vein, then it’s an enjoyable read.