7th Jun 2011
Devil’s Consort by Anne O’Brien
Devil’s Consort is the second of former teacher Anne O’Brien‘s novels based on the life of a historical character, and focuses on Eleanor of Aquitaine – ‘England’s most ruthless queen’.
For those of you who are as ignorant as I on the subject of the European monarchy in the Middle Ages, Eleanor was a pretty powerful lady; Duchess of Aquitaine (a sizeable region of France) in her own right, she was also the only woman ever to have been queen of both France and England.
Documenting the early part of Eleanor’s life, the first person narrative of Devil’s Consort keeps the reader privvy to the Duchess’s most intimate thoughts throughout her disastrous marriage to King Louis VI and the initial years of her relationship with King Henry II.
Those amongst you who don’t consider yourself history buffs should feel a little more well-educated on the subject of Eleanor of Aquitaine after reading this book thanks to O’Brien’s in-depth portrait.
A former history teacher, the author has obviously used her passion for the subject to drive her writing, although in places it seems like O’Brien has been so desperate to display her knowledge surrounding the subject that it detracted from the flow of the book. In particular, parts of Louis’ Crusade were so drawn out that just reading these sections felt slightly like a crusade in itself.
Like most historical novels, Devil’s Consort probably takes a fair few liberties with the truth by filling in the blanks in order to make the story as interesting as possible, but from reading around the subject it seems O’Brien managed to stay fairly true to historical accounts.
Whilst Eleanor is not the easiest character to love, you do empathise with her frustration at the misogynistic laws which render her largely impotent in comparison with her male counterparts.
Devil’s Consort‘s main fault lies in its length and the author’s sense of timing. Over the course of the novel the narrative varies from covering a few days in several pages to many years in one page, and there doesn’t seem to be a good balance.
As O’Brien has chosen to document a real person’s life which readers may already be familiar with (even those who aren’t are greeted with an Aquitaine family tree before starting the story), it might have been beneficial to inject a little more emotion and excitement into the writing in order to truly grip the reader.
Sadly, Devil’s Consort is not quite captivating enough to obtain the affections of those who don’t have the best relationship with historical novels. However, it is a very easy read and entertaining in parts, and fans of the genre should find O’Brien’s imagining of Eleanor’s plight reasonably enjoyable.
Recommended for: Fans of historical romance-based novels (and authors such as Phillippa Gregory) will probably appreciate O’Brien’s efforts and should appreciate the experience her teaching background has added to the book.
Other recommended reading: Those who enjoy this genre may well enjoy O’Brien’s previous novel, Virgin Widow, which offers an insight into the life of Anne Neville - ‘England’s forgotten queen’. If Devil’s Consort fills you with a desire to learn more about Eleanor of Aquitaine, try the play The Lion in Winter by James Goldman.