Now, highly acclaimed and prolific novelist Cecelia Holland - arguably the true queen of historical fiction, whose books cover everything from early Byzantium to early 18th century California - brings us a novel about that pivotal year in Eleanor's career, when she launched her quest to get her marriage to pious Louis of France annulled so she could marry fiery Henry Plantagenet. Written in Ms Holland's elegant style The Secret Eleanor is also the tale of her "secret" other half: her sister, Petronilla, an oft-neglected historical character who, in this novel, bears an uncanny resemblance to her famous sibling, and thus brings about remarkable deceit, lethal rivalry, and life-altering transformation.
One of Ms Holland's most impressive gifts is her ability to evoke the past with a few select words. Here, we can feel the moldering damp of Louis's palace on the Seine; the earthy aroma of Poitiers in spring; and icy fall of winter in a neglected roadside inn. Ms Holland is equally adept with characterization, offering us a regally impetuous Eleanor; her sedate yet covetous sister; an ambitious peasant maid who turns the tables on her abusers; a handsome troubador who is more than he seems; an emasculated royal advisor intent on Eleanor's downfall; and of course the randy, hotheaded, devilish Henry himself, who catches Eleanor's gaze from across a crowded hall and sets the world afire to possess her.
Those familiar with the facts of Eleanor's life will find much to revel in here, particularly as Ms Holland's choice to tell part of the story through Petronilla both freshens up more familiar historical events as well as offers a less fawning look at the legendary duchess. And for those who do not yet know Eleanor's story, you can do no better than to start with The Secret Eleanor.
If you'd like to read more about the writing of this novel, please visit Sarah Johnson's Reading The Past for an interview with Ms Holland herself.