Eleanor of Aquitaine: The Voyage West
Beaulieu’s meticulously detailed, hugely readable “Eleanor Code” series continues in its serialized fictional narrative of the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine with this latest volume, which finds the beautiful young Eleanor married to pious milksop King Louis of France when he decides to go on Crusade to liberate Edessa. Louis and Eleanor bring a vast force (most of which Louis will later squander) to the Outremer, and Eleanor is brought into contact with her charismatic uncle Raymond, ruler of the neighboring state of Antioch.
The Crusade is disastrous for the French, and Beaulieu skillfully narrates both the hot chaos of the battlefield and the intricate political labyrinths that – then as now – characterize the clash of cultures and faiths in the region. The book’s cast of characters is extensive, and it’s the author’s great gift to bring all of them to life – although none more so than Eleanor herself, here no longer the naive girl of earlier volumes but rather a seasoned ruler, as sharp and decisive as her husband is wishy-washy. When at one point a fellow queen tells Eleanor “Men play chess, a game forbidden to women, but we run a game of castles, a far more difficult game,” Beaulieu’s readers will believe it. All three books (thus far) in this series are highly recommended