An atmospheric tale of the mythmaking of a young queen.
Ball (Acorna’s Quest, 1998, with Anne McCaffrey) concentrates on Eleanor’s formative years in this densely detailed narrative, from age 15, in 1137, when her powerful father William died, leaving her and her younger sister vulnerable to predatory suitors, to age 30, when she manages to divorce the ineffectual King Louis of France and marry the young upstart of England, soon-to-be Henry II. Ball portrays Eleanor as a strong-willed, decisive character, who essentially chooses her own destiny as queen. “Love is for peasants,” she proclaims. “We make alliances.” With the death of her father, Eleanor eschews the marriage offer of a lesser noble and puts forth to her advisers the scheme of catching bigger fish, Louis the Fat’s son, and thus uniting the valuable lands of Aquitaine and Poitiers with France. Indeed, young Louis, who wanted only to spend his days in pious prayer in a monastery, but was yanked into line when his older brother Philippe was killed, reluctantly takes the lively teenager as his wife before growing to love her. Soon he is crowned king, and Eleanor his queen, and over many years two daughters are born, but no sons. As rumors of Eleanor’s adultery spread (she finds Louis a cold fish), she is coerced into joining Louis’s disastrous venture to the Holy Land to fight the infidels; Ball digresses on a truly fanciful venture with the queen’s extended entourage to Constantinople and the lush spectacle of Emperor Manuel’s court, where she learns for the first time in his arms “what sweetness could be between a man and a woman.” A meeting with impetuous, red-headed Henry, the teenaged son of King Geoffrey of England, whets the empire-making ambitions for both Henry and Eleanor, and their match is secretly sealed. The author here delivers several imperious, memorable characterizations.
Ball embroiders the record outlandishly, but what a ripping way to learn a history lesson.