It has been a week of competitive reading in the de Lisle household. Bed time, back to back: him reading George R R Martin’s hugely popular Game of Thrones fantasy fiction; me reading Dan Jones’s The Plantagenets. We both read into the night, but I was the one reading passages out loud.
Jones covers an enormous amount of ground: eight generations of kings and queens from 1120 to 1399. The risk with a long dynastic history is that it becomes just one damn thing after another, and the reader gets lost in a snowstorm of names and events. Jones avoids this with a combination of gripping storytelling and pin-sharp clarity. As I sometimes stop mid-paragraph to daydream around a subject, I was grateful to be kept on track by a text that is simple and direct, without leaving me feeling patronised.
The narrative opens in 1120 with a drunken party aboard a white ship – the White Ship. Among the beautiful people revelling on deck was William Aetheling, grandson of William the Conqueror and sole legitimate son of Henry I. Unfortunately those who were actually sailing the ship were also drunk