When Christ and His Saints Slept, by Sharon Kay Penman.
I really expected to love this book. I'd read a number of her other books, and always came away saying that I thought Sharon Kay Penman to be one of the best historical fiction writers I'd ever come across. So it came as quite a surprise that this book didn't quite capture my imagination in the same way that her other books have. I still enjoyed the book, but I didn't love it.
This book focuses on the civil war in England, between Stephen and his cousin Maud, the daughter and designated heir of King Edward I, for the English crown.
One complaint I have is that several characters are introduced in the first chapters of the book, apparently as a device for introducing us to the main characters, then dropped and never mentioned again. I found that to be not only very annoying, but also very confusing, as all of a sudden you are seeing the world through the eyes of someone who appears to have nothing to do with anything, and in fact does have nothing to do with anything as it turns out. I also found it very difficult to feel strongly about either of the main protagonists, because the point of view kept switching back and forth from one to the other, and neither was made out to be a terribly sympathetic person. I found myself wondering, even five hundred pages in, just who exactly I wanted to win the war, because I couldn't rouse myself to feel much more than antipathy when either side won a battle. I will say that the book was extremely well research and very rich in detail and description. Ultimately, however, I ended up much more interested in, and feeling much more strongly about some of the lesser characters than I did about either Stephen or Maud. In particular, Maud's welsh half-brother captured my imagination, and the part of the story that took place in Wales seemed the strongest and most enjoyable storyline in the entire story.
I'd still recommend this book, but not quite as highly as I would recommend The Sun In Splendor or Here be Dragons. I'd give it a 4 out of 5, that is to say, buy it and enjoy it, but commit yourself for the long haul as there will be periods where the going is slow, and dedication is required to make it through to the end of this 750+ pager.