The Summer Queen is the first installment of Elizabeth Chadwick’s Eleanor of Aquitaine series. I picked it up in a used bookstore in London, having read positive reviews about it. I’m a bit of sucker for historical fiction (okay, a BIG sucker), and Eleanor is one of my favourite people to read about.
Through Chadwick’s writing, we meet a young Alienor (how Eleanor’s name was originally spelled), long before her marriage to the king of France. The story is rich with description, and you can tell that Chadwick did her research. When I first began reading The Summer Queen, I was in the midst of my creative writing project/dissertation for my second MA. I was conducting my own heavy research about 11th century Spain, and am familiar with the huge amount of work it takes to recreate a medieval world that is not only historically accurate, but relatable to readers. Chadwick is a master at this, and I am happy to say that I learned from immersing myself in this novel.
However, I did feel an absence of love for the characters themselves. While Alienor begins as an interesting young woman with the world at her fingertips, we soon lose the drive to care about what happens to her. She, and the surrounding characters, eventually fall flat. Their dialogue is stilted, and not in a convincing courtly way.
Although it is unlikely that I will finish this series, I did enjoy Chadwick’s writing overall, and will be looking into her other work. As a writer myself, I am in awe at her abilities to reimagine and re-fabricate a portion of history that eludes many novelists.