Devil’s Brood is the third book in a trilogy that began with When Christ and His Saints Slept and continued with Time and Chance. Devil’s Brood tackles Henry and Eleanor’s children, from Prince Hal down to John Lackland. The details of the rift between Henry, Eleanor, and their sons are well-known, but the way in which Sharon Kay Penman presents it here is unique.
In this book, Sharon Kay Penman continues her tradition of writing historical fiction that both tells a good story and educates the reader. The novel opens in 1172, fifteen months after Thomas Becket was murdered and just after Henry returns from a trip to Ireland to pay penance for his unwitting part in it. As with her other novels, the focus is on the interpersonal relationships: between Henry and his sons, Henry and Eleanor, Eleanor and her sons, and between Hal, Richard, and Geoffrey themselves. It's the kind of dysfunctional family you only read about in fiction, the distinction here being that these were, of course, real, living people. And Penman does a fantastic job of bring these people to life, 800 years later: all the little quirks of each of them are here, especially Henry's high energy and uncanny ability to travel hundreds of miles on horseback in short periods of time.
The book is a bit of a slow read, and no wonder: at over 700 pages, this is a book to take your time over. It's taken six years for Penman to write the third book in the trilogy (on her acknowledgements page, she writes that a reader once remarked, "did Eleanor get lost in Aquitaine?"), but the wait was worth it; I enjoyed the historical detail of this novel, and the way in which the author manages to pull her research together into a comprehensive story that never fails to entertain and educate. Once again, Sharon Kay Penman has given me another reason to go do some research of my own on these fascinating historical figures. And as always, her writing is top-notch. In all, this is a very strong finish to a wonderful trilogy.
Also reviewed by: Medieval Bookworm, Devourer of Books, Tanzanite's Shelf, Books 'N Boder Collies, The Tome Traveller's Weblog, The Burton Review