Synopses & Reviews
The enchanting Alix of Wanthwaite returns in a suspenseful and richly textured adventure in which nothing less than the future of England is at stake.
Alix is home at her beloved estate on the Scottish border when King Richards soldiers march into her castle and demand to take her to the Continent with them. King Richard has been captured while on Crusade, and Alix is among the nobles whose lives will be collateral for the kings ransom. But when shes delivered to Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richards mother, she is dumbfounded to learn that the queen has other plans for her.
King Richard needs an heir, Eleanor tells Alix. Repulsed by his queen, a homely religious fanatic, he has told his mother that the only woman he wants is the one he met on Crusade, when she was disguised as a boy. Richard wants Alix to be his mistress and the mother of the next Plantagenet king. Now a beguiling and irrepressible young woman, Alix faces more tribulations—and romance—on this trip to Europe, where affairs of the state and affairs of the heart are intricately intertwined.
The sequel to Kaufman's bestseller "Shield of Three Lions" picks up with Alix of Wanthwaite in over her head in royal intrigue. When Eleanor of Aquitaine decides her son, King Richard the Lionheart, who has little interest in women, must produce an heir, she believes Alix can stir his passion. When Alix hears her husband has died, does she have a choice?
About the Author
Pamela Kaufman, Ph.D., is the author of the bestseller Shield of Three Lions, the first Alix of Wanthwaite novel, and The Book of Eleanor, a novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine—both available from Crown Publishers and Three Rivers Press. She lives in Los Angeles.
Reading Group Guide
1. After Bonels abduction of Alix, the traveling party stops at Malbysse Manor. Why? What is the significance of their strange meeting with Sir Richard Malbysse, Sir William de Fauconbridge, Sir Robert de Cuckney, and Hugh, Bishop of Durham? Why do these men later intercept Bonels party and provide Alix the opportunity to escape?
2. What binds Alix and Bonel in friendship early in the story? How does their relationship evolve throughout the novel? What role does Judaism play in Alixs adventure? What conflict does Bonel face in his loyalty to Alix and his vow to save the Jewish people?
3. There is a vast discrepancy between Alixs self-perception and the way she is perceived by others. Her ethereal beauty has an impact on everyone she meets, yet she has a childlike lack of physical self-consciousness, little understanding of her own power, and a wry awareness of her own emotional instability-“I was a roiling cod, a hot liver, fantastick cells gone tinty.” How do these unusual traits affect your reading of Alix as a heroine? Does she betray her own sensibilities when she falls in love with Richard? Do you like her more or less by the end of the book?
4. After Vaudreuil castle is destroyed, Alix escapes to Rouen and is forced to live in hiding as a refugee. Why do you think she chooses this hardship over succumbing to Richards wishes, when her contract guarantees total comfort and opulence for two years if she simply obeys him?
5. What specific event in Edmundsbury opens Alixs eyes to the plight of the Jews? What effect does it have on her later?
6. During Alixs first attempted escape from Bonel, she is attacked by an enormous golden eagle. Do you think the eagle is a symbol? If so, what does it indicate? Where else in the novel does Kaufman use symbolism to illuminate Alixs predicament?
7. What do you make of Alixs period of religious fanaticism while at Fontevrault, and her strange relationship with Sister Hilaria? Why does she make the leap from sassy, pragmatic landowner, to meek pupil and ecstatic visionary so willingly? What does Sister Hilaria represent for Alix?
8. After Alix refuses Pudlicotts marriage proposal, Tib gives Alix a reality check by enumerating the choices in life for a woman of this time period. What are they?
9. Banners of Gold chronicles both Alixs sexual awakening and her loss of innocence about sex. What conflicting lessons about sex does Alix get from Queen Eleanor, Sister Hilaria, Sister Damiana, Tib, King Richard, Berengaria, Prince John, the Queens retinue of ladies, and the clergy, particularly Walter of Coutances?
10. At what point does Alix begin to soften toward Richard? Why does she forgive him his cruelty? What enables her to get over her distaste for his sexual history? What event seals their impending affair?
11. Richard is dangerously jealous of anything in Alixs life that is not related to him. She tells us, “My life at Wanthwaite was comical preamble to my true existence with him.” Why is she able to love this man who is so temperamental, suspicious, possessive, and unreasonable? Do you think she is experiencing the seduction of wealth and comfort, or is she too innocent for that? Is it just blind love?
12. Throughout her journey, Alix is constantly torn between her passion for autonomy and her fear of loneliness. Where in the story do you see these aspects of her at war? Is her skill at connecting with people, even in adverse situations, beneficial or damaging to her cause? Formerly known as the “wildflower of the north,” Alix describes herself as a “hostage of love” by the end; does Richards death free her?
13. How do you explain Richards benevolence toward his murderer? His deathbed confession to Alix? Has her love truly redeemed him, as he claims? Has he evolved into a compassionate, loving mate at last, or is he orchestrating his death to contain as much drama as his life did?
14. What does Eleanor teach Alix about the Churchs war on women and the most effective means for fighting back? What various facades and illusions does Eleanor employ to maintain power as Queen?
When Shield of Three Lions begins, Alix is barely twelve years old and when Banners of Gold finishes, she is still only a teenager. We hear a lot about children growing up quickly these days, but it seems that they grew up even faster in the Middle Ages. Is Alix’s experience as extraordinary as it seems to modern readers?
It may seem extraordinary to us, but Alix’s experience was common for the time. Children could be affianced from birth, and the age of consummation was twelve.
King Richard’s sexuality is a driving force in both novels, and while he intially rejects Alix because she is a woman, they later become passionate lovers. Is this contradictory? Did Richard the Lion Heart have male and female lovers? How was that regarded by his contemporaries?
Richard was probably bisexual. Though the encyclopedia lists him as homosexual, the greatest authority on Richard today, John Gillingham, claims that there is no evidence for this. He did confess to homosexual acts (as I have written) while on Crusade, but during his life he probably concealed such feelings, since the punishment was burning at the stake (this is the origin of the slur “faggot”). We do know that he never consummated his marriage with his queen, Berengaria.
In the character of Bonel, we learn a great deal about the treatment of English Jews in the Middle Ages. Was this type of anti-Semitism common? How did a few men like Bonel rise through society despite their ethnicity?
Yes, anti-Semitism was common in England at that time and became even more so a few years later. Jewish communities were supposedly protected by the kings, though otherwise outside the law. Richard was relatively good to the Jews, but his brother John was terrible and King Philip of France even worse.
In Banners of Gold, we meet the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard’s mother. She and her ladies clearly influence Alix’s views of love, sex, and women’s roles. In what ways are Eleanor and her ladies typical women of that time?
Eleanor was certainly a woman ahead of her time, and we can only assume that her life-long friends thought the same as she did. When I wrote about her in The Book of Eleanor, I saw her as a role model because of her keen intellect, her formidable skills at governing, her love of and control of her ten children, and her cultural efforts in the areas of music, medieval romances, poetry, and architecture. A queen at fifteen, she was still a queen when she died at eighty-four, though she had divorced one king and raised an army against another. Did she also have a passionate erotic life? I think so. After all, her reputation to this day is as a beautiful, seductive woman.
Banners of Gold has a true cliff-hanger ending. Is there a third book in the works?
Yes indeed. I’ve done most of the background research and am now playing with Enoch, Alix, and Bonel in my head. I’m going to England in late May to check “locales” and will start to write as soon as I get home.