Listen to the inner voices of Richard the Lionheart and his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, resounding down the centuries, courtesy of the powerful imagination of the French novelist Clara Dupont-Monod. Live through the turbulent decades in the company of the medieval world’s most dysfunctional family, in a time when a mother sets her sons against their father (scathingly referred to as ‘The Plantagenet’) out of revenge for his broken promises and betrayals. We have met Eleanor before, in biographies, fiction, and drama but never like this. Historical authenticity is guaranteed through all the well-known stories of the era, but it is the fascinating psychology of the mother/son relationship that takes centre stage. Eleanor tries to arm her sons and daughters to face the stark realities of the game of power that is 12th-century Europe, but at a cost. Tenderness seems non-existent; in its place swirl passion, anger and storms. The revolt fails, leaving Eleanor a prisoner and Richard forced to obey his father, but real strength lies in their endurance and unspoken love.
The translation by Ruth Diver is impeccable; you rarely even consider it. The intricate, baton-passing narrative is delivered in elegant, sometimes austere but often lyrical prose, sure to please readers who like their history conveyed in style. We travel with the characters through the poetry-rich lands of south-west France, across the sea to rain-soaked England and on to the ochre dust of the Holy Land where Richard confronts his destiny, shaped for him by Eleanor. This is a cut above your average historical novel. It’s a short read but reflects an epic story.