THE PLOT: The Winter Crown is the second novel in a trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine. It follows Eleanor’s second marriage to Henry II and starts when she is crowned Queen of England in 1154. For most of the novel Eleanor is preoccupied with producing heirs and she’s constantly pregnant. However, she yearns to rule in her own right and wants her husband to loosen the reigns. As her children grow up and start to demand power of their own, Henry II’s inability to share control escalates into family rebellion, treason and the spectre of civil war.
Read here for my review of The Summer Queen, the first novel in the series by Elizabeth Chadwick.
RATING: I’ve given this novel three stars because it’s a bit lacklustre when compared to the first book in the trilogy. Although an equally impressive task – it’s a hugely complex historical novel – the pacing was slow. I wanted more intricate plot details about the different political figures at court, yet each scene became a bit ‘same-y’ as the chapters followed a similar rhythm. It’s possible to read as a standalone novel, but I’d recommend starting with the first book, The Summer Queen, if you’re a fan of medieval historical fiction.
GOOD BITS: The world building is my favourite aspect of the novel and I became immersed in medieval England. I also learned a lot about Thomas Beckett, which provided interesting historical context for the precursor to Henry VIII’s schism with the church in Rome. The novel highlighted how the strained relationship between Church and State in England existed for several centuries before the Protestant reformation.
NOT GOOD BITS: The novel is almost exclusively from Eleanor’s point of view and the core of her story is being on the sidelines of power. This means a lot of the central events take place off-screen. The action happens through reported speech – messengers entering to tell Eleanor what’s happened – rather than being seen. This slows down the pace and makes some of the events removed.
The first third of the story is Eleanor being constantly pregnant and giving birth, so she rarely interacts with people. The middle part of the book introduces the martyrdom of Thomas Beckett, which is very interesting but Eleanor doesn’t play a role in the events. Then, finally, there’s a lot of intrigue with Eleanor’s sons but a lot of their childhood and development is not around her. Personally, I think the novel would be more engaging if there were multiple POV’s throughout.
OVERALL: I’d recommend this book if you love historical fiction set in medieval times but you should start at the beginning of the trilogy.