Devil's Brood: The Angevin Family - Alfred Duggan Devil’s Brood is a young-adult history of Henry II Plantagenet and his unruly family: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Young King Henry, Richard the Lionhearted, Geoffrey & John. The title comes from a legend that Henry’s ancestor, Count Fulke of Anjou, married the Devil’s daughter and their descendants inherited a diabolic strain that made them the wonders and the terrors of the world.

The style of the book reminds me of Isaac Asimov’s young-adult-oriented histories that I read as a child but that doesn’t mean Duggan writes down to his audience. There are some very insightful discussions that helped me better understand the events of the period. For example, his discussion of the tangled webs of homage that make Medieval politics seem little more than barely contained anarchy, or the development of the tournaments as lucrative sources of revenue for knights (at least the successful ones).

And the account is very even handed, which means my image of Henry, forever colored by the O’Toole/Hepburn version of “The Lion in Winter,” now must include his faults as well as his virtues. By that same token, my appreciation of Richard is greater.

And speaking of Richard – Duggan dances around his sexual orientation and ultimately comes to the conclusion that he wasn’t homosexual. He simply wasn’t very interested in women; his overriding goal was the crusade (a Christian jihadist, as it were).

The writing is crisp and well paced, and Duggan’s flaws as a novelist are strengths as a historian – the ability to clearly explain what’s going on.

If I had a young acquaintance who was developing an interest in history (Medieval history particularly), I’d recommend this book. For the serious-but-amateur historian (like myself), I’m not sure I would recommend it despite its readability but I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it. And it’s certainly good enough for anyone with a passing interest in the period (inspired perhaps after watching “The Lion in Winter”).