Ms. Chadwick presents her final novel in the Alienor (Eleanor) of Aquitaine series. Alienor, estranged from her husband Henry II after backing their sons in their rebellion against their father, is now a prisoner, kept against her will at the Palace of Sarem. Henry tries to force her to retire from public life and become a nun, but Alienor is not quite ready to give up on public life. As their sons continue to chafe under their father’s restrictions, Alienor plays mediator, soothing wounded pride and encouraging reconciliation, mostly to no avail. As their eldest son and heir Henry and second son Geoffrey die, Henry and Alienor face a future with only two sons out of the ten living children they brought to life, a harsh reminder of how quickly life can change. When Henry himself dies quite suddenly, Alienor’s life shifts again, now seemingly full of possibility with her favorite son Richard at the throne, until Richard’s crusading and John’s betrayals consume her remaining years. Even into her 80s, however, Alienor is not allowed to slip away to a quiet retirement. When one of her grandsons, Arthur, Count of Brittany, lays siege to the castle of Mirabeau and threatens to take her captive, the elderly woman proves she has plenty of fight still in her, outmaneuvering even the youngest and most ambitious of her adversaries.
Ms. Chadwick brings Alienor’s story full circle, and we see her in the autumn of her life. With her most bitter rivals now dead, she is poised to take on the coveted role of elder stateswoman until the upheaval of Richard and John’s struggles, as well as the death of most of her remaining children, cast a shadow over her last years. Bittersweet and lacking the fireworks of her clashes with Henry, Alienor must resign herself to the sadness of outliving most of her children and of seeing long-cherished hopes turn to dust. As the title suggests, this is Alienor at her most poignant, reflecting on the dreams, experiences, and what might have been while giving it her all, even as she enters her eighth decade of life – a fitting tribute for one of history’s most heroic and well-loved queens.
Book I, “The Summer Queen” review can be found here.
Book II, “The Winter Crown” review can be found here.
Amazon link is here.