Books & Literature

Book Review: The Cubs Roar, by Blanche d’Alpuget

HISTORICAL FICTION: The final book in the sumptuous Birth of the Plantagenets series, The Cubs Roar, illuminates the tumultuous end of Henry II. A tragic history of love, power and betrayal, The Cubs Roar reveals the destruction of an empire at the hands of a broken family.

A rousing tale of an often-overlooked period of English history.

Historical fiction has always been popular, but recent adaptions of literary series such as Poldark and the novels of Austen and the Brontes have sparked a renewed interest in English history. Television shows such as The Tudors have shone a light on the forgotten corners of English literature. Now Australian author Blanche d’Alpuget has given the stage to the machinations of the House of Plantagenet.

The Cubs Roar is the fifth book in the Birth of the Plantagenets series. It deals with the fallout from Henry II’s kidnap and imprisonment of Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the resentment this causes between King Henry and his five sons (not to mention the French crown).

As this is the fifth book in the series, the reader could be excused for fearing that the characters, situations, and plots would be difficult to pick up, but d’Alpuget’s skill as a writer ensures this is not the case. A character list at the start of the book coupled with the Plantagenet family tree enables the reader to understand who is who. A map showing not only England but also the English lands in Normandy further prepares the reader and places them at the centre of the book’s opening scene, an argument between Richard (later The Lionheart) and Geoffrey, Henry II’s bastard, in the court of the French King, as they discuss what is to be done regarding Henry and their mother. Thus the scene is set for a fast-paced, bloody and violent ride through a dark corner of English history.

The facts are not pretty and d’Alpuget does not shy away from them. Her intimate knowledge of the fashions and requirements of the Plantagenet court are shown in the detail she infuses the narrative with.

Any historical novel is a book about people, and here the book could have used more detail. d’Alpuget seems to prefer showing to telling, a fine trait in a writer. But at times, the lack of any internal dialogue from the characters can leave the reader feeling as though their motivations are unknown. Similarly, the reader can sometimes find themselves floundering as the characters refer to each other by their nicknames, which are not included in the character descriptions in the Dramatis Personae frontispiece.

The plot moves along at a strong pace and the reader soon finds themselves enmeshed on a complex web of intrigue which can be broken at any time by battle, blood and war. d’Alpuget is to be congratulated on dramatising this eclectic and interesting yet unsung corner of English history.

Reviewed by DC White

Distributed by: Simon & Schuster Australia
Released: September 2020

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