Review: Time and Chance
Time and Chance, by Sharon Kay Penman
rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Book Source: local bookstore
The second novel in Sharon Kay Penman's Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy was released in 2003 under the title Time and Chance. Picking up where When Christ and His Saints Slept left off, it continues to follow the fascinating story of the Plantagenet's quest to rule England, Normandy and ultimately far beyond.
In Time and Chance, it is Maude's eldest son, Henry, who picks up the fight for the crown and goes on to become King Henry II. But England and Normandy are just a small piece of the empire Henry would come to rule. Enter Eleanor of Aquitaine, the infamous beauty who would become the one woman in history to hold both the title of Queen of France and Queen of England in her lifetime.
Penman's characterization of Eleanor is riveting. Shrewdly intelligent and ambitious, it is Eleanor who orchestrates her divorce from the overly-pious King Louis VII and throws her lot in with Henry instead. As a result, Henry and Eleanor ruled an empire that stretched all the way to the Mediterranean -- not an easy piece of real estate to manage in the 12th century -- and much of Time and Chance is concerned with the various upheavals and rebellions Henry had to quell.
Despite their hectic schedule, Henry and Eleanor still find time to produce eight children (lovingly referred to by later chroniclers as "the Devil's brood") and Henry, like most other royal men, found himself a mistress by the name of Rosamund.
One of the more interesting aspects of Time and Chance is the exploration of Henry's complicated relationship with Thomas Becket, his friend, chancellor and later Archbishop of Canterbury. As the legend goes, Henry and Thomas had a falling out and Henry, out of frustration, asked the infamous question: "Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?!" Or at least, words to this effect. (Penman wisely chooses a variation of this phrase in Time and Chance.) Regardless of the exact phraseology -- history is a bit fuzzy on this point -- the result was catastrophic. Thomas Becket was murdered in his own church, paving the way for his martyrdom and haunting Henry for the rest of his life.
If there are any problems, it is with the sheer volume of historic events Penmen packs into this novel. Events of such a grand scale led to a fracture in the flow of the narrative. After building tension with Henry and Beckett, the conflict then goes unmentioned for several chapters. Likewise with Henry's stormy relationship with Eleanor. The result is a somewhat disjointed feeling to the story, although Penman must be forgiven for this considering the large time frame she is covering.
Despite this small flaw, there is no reason not to pick up this second book of the trilogy. Time and Chance focuses on the political scene of the 12th century and provides the necessary broader picture that paves the way for the newly-released Devil's Brood, which explores, on a more personal level, the disintegration of Henry and Eleanor's marriage and the hornet's nest of children they produced.
Title: Time and Chance
Author: Sharon Kay Penman
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Date: February 4, 2003