Time and Chance

Written by Sharon Kay Penman
Review by Sarah Nesbeitt

A new Penman novel is always cause for celebration. To many, her story will be familiar, but Penman has the gift of presenting it as if we had never read it before.

Here in full color are the trio who brought life to the early medieval world. Henry Plantagenet, the vigorous young king, whose political and religious differences with Thomas Becket cause insurmountable problems. Eleanor of Aquitaine, the beautiful, strong-willed heiress whose transformation from Henry’s beloved queen to his bitter former confidante progresses in an entirely believable manner. And Becket, the king’s chancellor and boon companion turned man of God, whose inexplicable and sudden devotion to the church sets him against many, Henry most of all.

Another fine creation is Ranulf, half-brother to the Empress Maude, who finds his loyalties torn between England and Wales. Ranulf’s fictional nature is almost disappointing, so clearly does he leap from the page. My sympathy for both Eleanor and her rival Rosamund Clifford speaks to Penman’s mastery of character development. She also eschews the traditional “turbulent priest” scene in favor of one that is more historically plausible.

So well does Penman integrate her assiduous research into her tale that we have no doubt that this is the way it must have been. I was left waiting impatiently for the next volume in the trilogy, The Devil’s Brood, which hopefully will not be long in coming.