When Christ and His Saints Slept

Sharon Kay Penman, Author
Sharon Kay Penman, Author Henry Holt & Company $25 (746p) ISBN 978-0-8050-1015-2
Paperback - 784 pages - 978-0-345-39668-6
Prebound-Other - 746 pages - 978-0-606-29650-2
Prebound-Sewn - 746 pages - 978-1-4176-1990-0
Open Ebook - 784 pages - 978-1-4299-3952-2
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The magnificent combination of history and humanity that Penman's readers have come to expect again animates her latest work (after Here Be Dragons). Any reservations about it lie more with the period than with her evident abilities as a novelist. Despite the very real tragedy inflicted on the common people by the 12th-century battle between Henry I's surviving legitimate heir, Maude, and her cousin, Stephen of Blois (distaff grandson of William the Conqueror), the era lacks epic qualities. It's somewhat like watching an inept and dirty soccer match with England as the ball: siege follows siege, castles are thrown up, opportunistic barons settle grievances or swipe land as Maude and Stephen fumble for the throne. Still, Penman gives a most persuasive and moving account of these complicated politics. She portrays Maude as a strong woman whose frustrations made her brittle, and Stephen as a man too chivalrous for the age of chivalry. She also introduces her first fictional protagonist in the form of Ranulf, one of Maude's illegitimate half-brothers, a successful addition to the cast until he turns a little soppy and marries a blind Welsh cousin. Perhaps the most impressive feature of the narrative is Penman's skill in showing how essentially good people can end up doing great evil. 75,000 first printing; major ad/promo; author tour. (Apr.)
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