My last day back in Seattle, I allowed myself a trip to the nearest Barnes and Noble. It was a shorter trip, only ten days, and full of family and family gatherings, centered around my father’s recent death. The days sped by, each full and exhausting.
I had already packed most of my bags. I do this so I know how much, if any, room I have. That way, I won’t buy too many books. I know myself. I know my vices. There is a part of me that says “how can there be too many books? How can there be too much of such a good thing?”
And then I am stuck trying to shovel books into an already overpacked suitcase, stuffing more into my stuffed backpack, shoving, re-arranging, tossing out old underwear to make way for yet another book.
I only bought a few books, one of which was Courts of Love by Jean Plaidy. If you follow this link, you will find many reviews of this book that disagree with my opinion, and gave this book almost five full stars.
I have always held Eleanor of Aquitaine in great awe. Born in the Languedoc region of France, she was raised in a court full of literature and poetry, visitors from distant places bringing news. She was educated, and exposed to rule. She was expected to inheirit the rich province of Aquitaine until a younger brother was born, but, as was not uncommon in the times, he succumbed to a childhood illness, and she once again became the inheiritor of a fabulously wealthy and desirable province, the Aquitaine.
And if being the inheiritor of Aquitaine wasn’t enough, she was also thin, and elegantly beautiful, and educated, and she had spirit. She never felt herself limited by being a woman.
She first married Louis, King of France, who was nowhere near her match. She insisted on accompanying Louis on his crusade to free Jerusalem (failed) and upon her return to France met Henry, the heir to the English throne, secured a divorce from Louis of France based on the fact that they were distantly related, and then quickly married Henry, who was even less distantly related. She did as she wished.
Henry was several years younger than Eleanor, and they were both full of fire, and ambition. They had force, and strategic vision; as a couple, they were unbeatable. Eleanor gave birth almost yearly, mostly sons, and was happy until she discovered her husband’s multiple infidelities. His inability to be a faithful husband created a bitterness in her heart, a wall between the two of them. From time to time, Henry had Eleanor imprisoned to keep her out of his way. He believed she had turned his sons against him. But many times, he would need her, and call her out of her captivity to help him. It’s a bitch, being married to a king.
Where am I going with this review, you might ask?
I finished the book, and all I can wonder is how Jean Plaidy took such a fiery woman, a sensual and vibrant woman, and made her so wooden? It must be some problem in me, as the other reviewers give the book a much higher rating than I would, and I wonder if they are confusing their awe with the subject (Eleanor) with the quality of the book?
Or maybe I have become so used to Phillipa Gregory’s treatment that I am spoiled for Jean Plaidy? When you read The Queen’s Fool, The Other Bolyn Girl and The Constant Princess you are there, you are in their world, feeling their thoughts. The dialogue is rich and lively, you are surrounded by sensory clues, smells, feels, tastes – the world is richly created, and when you finish the book, you feel like you have travelled in time, as if you were really there.
Not so with Courts of Love.
I would rate this book far lower, because I DO admire Eleanor of Aquitaine, and I think she deserves an equally lively, richly sensual treatment. I want to know her world, I want to peek inside her mind and experience a little of what she experienced. I want Philippa Gregory to write about Eleanor of Aquitaine! Jean Plaidy, in my opinion, took an extraordinary woman, and make her less vibrant, and just a little drab. A grave injustice, in my book!