THE BOOK OF ELEANOR
Medieval chronicler Kaufman (Shield of Three Lions; Banners of Gold) turns her attention to the eponymous Eleanor of Aquitaine in this earnest first-person account of life, power and passion in 12th-century Europe. The novel opens in 1174 with the kidnapping of 52-year-old Eleanor by the men of her second husband, Henry II. Wanting to keep Eleanor's sons from the throne, Henry sentences her to imprisonment in the drafty Welsh tower of Old Sarum for 17 years, where she uses her time to pen the autobiographical account forming the body of the book. When she was 15, the beautiful, spirited daughter of the duke of Aquitaine fell in love with her kinsman, Baron Rancon, but had to forsake him to marry the religiously obsessed and sexually repressed King Louis VII of France for political gain. After she was granted an annulment finally approved by the pope, Eleanor planned to wed Rancon, but she was kidnapped and forced into marriage once again by the ambitious, redheaded Henry II, duke of Normandy and soon-to-be king of England. Henry and Eleanor, both natural leaders, are an explosive pair, but Eleanor will not give up Rancon, defying Henry until the end. Kaufman peppers her narrative with snatches from troubadour songs and interjections like "God's eyes!" but the tale lacks atmospheric richness. However, her presentation of one of history's larger-than-life heroines as an early feminist will engage and entertain readers with an interest in the life stories of powerful women. (Mar.)
Forecast:Kaufman's novel lacks the verve of Rosalind Miles's Guenevere trilogy, but the perennial appeal of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the general popularity of feminist-inflected historical fiction should assure respectable sales.