Ventura Press, Australia, 2020
This is the fifth of Blanche d’Alpuget’s Birth of the Plantagenets series and I confess that I come to it as a stand alone novel, not having yet read the four previous books. However, while reading the entire series is ideal and recommended, it is perfectly possible to enjoy this one alone.
The author breathes life into her 12th century figures, drawing on research, a life-long interest in the times and a fertile imagination, which also fleshes out the supporting cast and provides us with their presumed conversation.
To say these were times of turmoil is insufficient to the epic story of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and their dynasty. The family held the English throne from 1154, with the accession of Henry II, until 1485, when Richard III died in battle.
In The Cubs Roar, we join the story with Eleanor imprisoned by Henry due to her rebellion against him. The sons, who were part of this rebellion, are forgiven but feud and plot amongst themselves for supremacy. Richard remains loyal to Eleanor, who continues to plot her own future despite Henry’s plans.
Henry meanwhile is busy negotiating with the French and holding off uprisings by the Scots and others. He is also busy with his rather complex love affair with Rosamund, whom he apparently adores in the role of beautiful virgin. Her own love for Henry and the family’s determination to make her relationship with the King respectable lead her to a sticky end.
The murder of Becket and Henry’s act of contrition are an intriguing episode in this novel.
This is history with a human face, often not a very attractive one, but certainly absorbing. All the machinations of the warring parties and the many desirous of power remind us that more remains the same than changes with the passage of time – human nature and ambition seem to change not at all, merely the stage upon which our dramas play out.
For readers who like their historical fiction gutsy, finely-detailed, beautifully written and with enough facts to send them checking available resources, The Birth of the Plantagenets series will provide a rich and satisfying ‘binge read’. Something to pack in the summer holiday suitcase perhaps?
For me, it is passages like the account of the death of Douglas that held my attention, an horrific scene made magical with skilfully crafted words:
Above the Solway Firth flew a wedge of swans, returning to the sea. Abruptly they changed course, flying towards the citadel. What seemed at first only twenty birds became a hundred. Two hundred. Eight hundred. A multitude of white glory swept towards him, the uproar among the guards drowning the hum of their wings…. He felt power surge into his shoulders. He felt his chest swell with light. The white magnificence, the divine radiance, was within yards of his head. He spread his arms, rose to his toes and leaped…. Hundreds of feet below was the broken body of a man. Beside it lay a dead swan.From pages 25-26 of The Cubs Roar
Thank you Blanch d’Alpuget for the attention you have paid to each word in the countless that make up the series. This is what I want when I open a book.
Many thanks to Ventura Press for the review copy and to DMPCR for facilitating my interview with Blanche. It was a privilege.