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Contrary to what one might think upon first glance at the title, this is not a religious book. This is a historical fictional account of the 18 year struggle between cousins Stephen and Maude over the English throne in the 1100s.

In 1066 William the Conqueror conquered England making him the Duke of Normandy and the King of England. His son, Henry, was crowned King of England after his brother William Rufus died and reigned for 35 years. Unfortunately, Henry's eldest legitimate son died during a perilous crossing of the English channel and his only surviving legitimate heir was a daughter whom he'd sent off to Germany at the tender age of 8 to marry the Emperor of Germany, Maude.

The war for the crown ensued when Maude's cousin, Stephen, confiscated the crown upon Henry's death, before Maude could arrive in England from Germany to be crowned. The war ravaged nearly all of England and chroniclers of the time said of this time: Never before had there been greater wretchedness in the country.... And they said openly that Christ and his saints slept. The book closes with Maude's eldest son Henry being crowned king, ushering the age of the Plantagenets.

As a lover of English history, I was eager to read this book and learn about a period of history which has been peripherally featured in another series I've read bits and pieces of. While the story seemed slow at times, I think it was due to the depth of Penman's research. Quite often I felt as though I were right there, witnessing every battle fought. Over all, I think this is a book well worth reading to get good insight into the earliest histories of English royalty.

I'm definitely purchasing the follow-up, which continues the story of the Plantagenets.


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