TIME AND CHANCE
When Christ and His Saints Slept was Penman's popular account of the 12th-century struggle for England's throne. This book, the second of a planned trilogy, begins after Henry II has inherited the crown and married Eleanor of Aquitaine—a mature beauty and a wealthy ruler in her own right. Henry II is a confident leader, but he is also wise enough to appreciate his politically astute wife. His only other trusted adviser is Thomas Becket. Diplomatic and suave, Becket is the perfect complement for a rough-hewn young king. When he makes his chancellor archbishop of Canterbury, Henry believes he is creating an indomitable union of church and state. Becket, however, becomes an adamant protector of ecclesiastical power. The resulting conflict will climax in Becket's murder. In her five previous historical novels, Penman has exhibited a cool, almost academic style balanced by a penetrating sympathy, her fiction adhering faithfully to fact while making the past fully present. She would seem the ideal author to turn these outsized players in a royal drama into real people. Unfortunately, this long-anticipated novel lacks animation. The main characters never come to life, and Becket, in particular, remains a cipher: Penman never ventures inside this saint in the making, nor does she successfully explicate his conversion. She is more confident with her wholly imagined characters, but their vividness only serves to underscore the lifeless quality of the principals, and even the well-defined characters too often indulge in tedious and unbelievable expository monologues. 10-city author tour.(Mar. 4)
Forecast:Penman may not attract new fans with this disappointing offering, but the many readers who have been waiting seven years for it to appear will snap it up regardless.
Release date: 03/01/2002