Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens, Book One by Alison Weir

I have been badly neglecting my reviews, but I’m going to try (again) to catch up here a bit. This nonfiction by Alison Weir was released way back in September; it probably won’t be long now until you can get a paperback copy.

Queens of the Conquest front cover (Ballantine Books)

THE COVERAGE: This book covers the first queens of England following the conquest. It starts, fittingly enough, with William the Conqueror’s queen Matilda, followed by Henry I’s two queens, Matilda of Scotland and Adeliza of Louvain. Next is Henry’s daughter, Empress Matilda, here referred to as Maud. She was meant to inherit the crown when her brother died, but was passed over in favor of her cousin Stephen. We also get coverage of Stephen’s wife, Matilda of Boulogne. We just get to Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and don’t go into Eleanor (who, let’s be honest, really should just get her own book…which Weir has already written).

MY TWO CENTS: People who read this blog know that I love Weir’s nonfiction. I had also looked forward to this book for years, ever since she first announced that she would write it, and then announced she would split it into several volumes. So why did I have such a very hard time getting into it? I will admit that I was sick for much of the fall/winter, and maybe that dulled my excitement over this book. But it took me a long time, and finally the purchase of the audio version, to get through it all.

While some of the lack of interest may have been just about my personal issues, I just don’t remember every struggling with a Weir nonfiction this much before. I felt like right out of the gate, part of the problem is that there are relatively few primary sources about the Conqueror’s Matilda. There’s a lot of “they probably…” and “they might have…” and some stories Weir passes on as legends that probably aren’t true. I felt like, “So what am I learning here?”

Then, there’s a stupid problem that normally shouldn’t have bothered me: too many Matildas. Everyone is Matilda. Four out of five queens here are Matilda, even though Weir smartly refers to the Empress as Maud instead. But we know darn well she’s really a Matilda. Is it Weir’s fault that Matilda was the most popular name of 11th and 12th-century English queens? Of course not, but it still somehow affected my enjoyment, and my attention span. Another problem: a lot of the other names are unrecognizable in present culture. Half the time I felt like I was reading a Star Wars novel instead of English history. Again, that’s just the way it was back in the mists of time.

Overall, I feel that maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to read this book. I intend to reread it at some point, and may even revise my review at that point. But for now, I owe the author and publisher a long-overdue review, and I’m afraid this is it.

BOTTOM LINE:  I looked forward to this book for a long time and then didn’t enjoy it. It might have been the book or it might have been me, so I will probably reread at some point.

TEACUP RATING: I’m going to be fair and give it three out of five teacups, because I really think it just wasn’t a good time for me to read this book.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in hardcover, e-book formats, and audio.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, plus purchase of the audio file.

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