Monday, July 26th, 2010
I came to Alison Weir’s historical fictions after enjoying a number of her very readable non-fiction histories. The first time I came across one of her fictional books (with the seemingly mandatory cover image of a woman in period dress with her face partially obscured — what is up with that?) I was a touch amused.
I imagined Weir being at least a little put out that Philippa Gregory was selling circles around Weir’s carefully researched non-fiction works. So, why shouldn’t Weir translate her vast historical knowledge into books that would reach people who might never pick up an actual history — and sell a lot more copies in the process.
I say good for her. And good for us as well.
Enjoyable to read as well as informative, Weir’s fictions shine a light on women of history who are too often overlooked. I’ve read two of her novels now (along with about six of her histories) and look forward to reading more.
Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor Aquitane couldn’t be more different from Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey. But then those two women couldn’t be more unalike, either.
Lady Jane was a child pawn whose only value to her family was as a possible path to the English crown, a move that put Jane in mortal danger as a mere teen. Eleanor, on the other hand. was a ruler in her own right, who proceeded to marry two kings, produce two future kings, and exhibit so much moxie her husbands sometimes despaired of her.
Weir does justice to them both. Her Lady Jane novel depicts royal childhood in a way that may shock contemporary readers. In effect, children were treated as miniature adults, held to high standards, and beaten when they fell short. Please, don’t let that put you off — the character of Lady Jane is truly fascinating and you’ll be impressed by how she deals with what life has given her.
Eleanor, on the other hand, is quite the manipulator herself. And a hot, lusty lady as well. Dissatisfied with the attentions of her husband, the French king, she plots an annulment so she can wed the ambitious man who plans to become the king of England. Considering we’re talking about the 11th century here, that’s pretty bold.
I appreciate that Weir’s novelistic style gives room for these two polar opposites to breathe and become “real.” But even more, I value knowing that for Weir, decades of research and dedication to facts came before her foray into fiction. Okay, Gregory has studied history, too, but she hasn’t written any.
To me, that makes a world of difference.
For more about Alison Weir, her novels, and her histories, click here.