Book Review: When Christ & His Saints Slept

When Christ and His Saints Slept (Eleanor of Aquitane, #1)When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love English history, literature, tea, scones, accents, cities, and beer. In fact, my family even has a manor in England! (And, by my family, I mean, waaaay back, if you trace my last name, you get to England. And then, if you trace some of those people forward, you’ll find out that they were slightly fancier than their American cousins & got to be Lords & Ladies & meet Shakespeare & Queen Elizabeth I, and have a giant manor that looks like a castle.)

ANYWAYS. So, I love the Brits.

My favorite period in all of English history is the period following William the Conqueror’s…conquering of England through the Third Crusade (i.e. late 12th century). AND, my favorite historical figure from that time is Eleanor of Aquitaine. (Also, my favorite movie of all time? The Lion in Winter. Hands down.)

So – this book, which is historical fiction, is set in the time preceding Henry II & Eleanor’s ascension to the throne of England. It covers the war between King Stephen & Empress Matilda (Maude) as they fight over the throne of England. She was the only surviving (legitimate) child of Henry I, and expected the throne to come to her (even though she was gasp* a woman); Stephen was her cousin who usurped her throne, leading a period of bloody, horrible civil war.

The book does a great job of describing & personifying the horrors of war and showing the effect on the people of England, as well as on those doing the fighting (or orchestrating the fighting).

Even though I knew the general story, I was very impressed with the way it unfolded. I am excited to read her next two books which further develop the stories of Henry II & Eleanor (who only really came into their own as characters in the last half of the book), and would recommend this (fairly long & weighty read) to anyone interested in military history, English history or medieval love stories.

View all my reviews

Recent Comments

  • Brian
    February 6, 2011 - 9:45 am ·

    I vaguely remember reading this one a number of years ago. Was there a suggestion that King Stephen and the Empress Maud were at one point lovers? Or am I conflating this with another book on the period?

    Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’ve found I can’t really read books set in this period any more without becoming overly critical of the narrative and picking out all the errors, anachronisms, and suchlike. I suppose that’s one of the sacrifices I must make as a scholar whose field of study is the early Medieval period.

    By the way, I’ve added you on my blogroll. 😉

  • Kim
    February 13, 2011 - 7:12 pm ·

    Wow, I did not even know this book existed. Straight on to my list. I LOVE The Lion in Winter. I even showed it to ninth-graders in class.