Wow, Virginia Henley sure seems intent on exploring a woman's fantasy with huge men and their proportionately gargantuan phallus in THE DRAGON AND THE JEWEL. Over half the novel seemed focused on Simon de Montfort's herculean physique; who knows, probably out of necessity since he towers over other men. I thought the love scenes featuring Simon's extraordinary size detracted from the passion and love (or overwhelmed it, depending on how you look at it!). The size factor and Henley's infatuation with her hero's huge size easily overshadowed the words of tenderness Simon bestows Eleanor after their first time (and many times thereafter).
As far as historical backdrops, plotting and settings go, I found Chadwick's LORDS OF THE WHITE CASTLE (***) superior, as far as tempestuous interactions go, I enjoyed Shannon Drake's COME THE MORNING (***) better, and as far as uninhibited passions go, Elizabeth Hoyt's ordinary-of-appearance characters in THE LEOPARD PRINCE (****) shared a heated passion and love far beyond that of our beautiful couple in Henley's THE DRAGON AND THE JEWEL. Finally as far as sensuality with beautiful characters go, Sylvia Day's ASK FOR IT (**) was better.
I thought the love between our Eleanor & Simon was fairly one-sided for the most part, both in the deeds of love and in words of love. Along with possessing an unmatched warrior's strength and ability, a cunning and observant mind, gargantuan proportions in size, a servicing lovemaking flair for his heroine, and a predilection to justice, Simon de Montfort also serenades our heroine with poetic words of tenderness (throughout). Yup, he's also a regular poet. Eleanor's scathing words (repeatedly) quickly got old while Simon is showering her with tender words and focusing on giving Eleanor pleasure in all the lovemaking. Simon is very gentle and tender with her, while Eleanor scratches, claws and bites Simon everywhere. In every way, the giving was all one-sided: Simon giving everything he is to Eleanor. I really didn't think Eleanor deserved Simon, but hey, it's Virginia Henley's story and Henley's characters. Eclipsing everything are these insistent and persistent references to Simon's enormous size! Also got old quickly, seemingly draining the resulting "love" and "romance." You immediately see the book for what it is: Virginia Henley's "passion" for ginormous-cock worship. ;> Shannon Drake's heroine in COME THE MORNING also seethed and lambasted her hero, but that was handled in a fun manner and turned into an all-consuming love on both of their parts.
Eleanor is one annoying, airhead of a heroine. I like a defiant, willful, badgering girl just as much as the next guy, but too many times, I wanted to slap her so she'd shut up, please don't talk, and please stop thinking ha! When she isn't railing against the hero for being a brute, oaf and a devil, she's enamored with jewels and costly gowns. She exacerbates poor Simon's debt 100-fold with lavish jewels, gowns and gifts. When Eleanor buys a costly gift for her brother King Henry's newborn prince, she pays little heed to Simon's enormous debt (only equaled by his gargantuan size!). Later, when Simon pleas with Eleanor about all her lavish tastes and to take it easy, she ignores him and fights with him instead. She fails to recognize any plots in her first husband's death, and she defends her capricious and feckless brother King Henry like an insipid dolt. She was endearing when she proved herself worthy of her first husband (though she enjoyed every liberty and freedom with her kind, first husband). Then with Simon, she's horrible. Though she was affectionate and caring with her late first husband William Marshal, she's not an affectionate person at heart, and she rails and rants at Simon constantly. When she's pregnant a second time, instead of being happy at the prospect of a second child, she's furious with Simon thinking he sidelined her to bed.
In fact, the love, trust and worship is so one-sided that when Eleanor overhears of a plot to trap and kill Simon, she again fails to return Simon's love, trust and loyalty. She's more concerned about the prospect of Simon's ambition for the English crown than about any danger to Simon. At one point in the novel, Eleanor accuses her sister (Holy Roman Empire's Empress) and sister-in-law (Richard's wife) of being materialistic. Ha, I love it! That's rich, considering her lavish tastes digging her husband deeper in debt. Then, when they gossip about Simon's first wife, again she doubts her husband. Despite Simon's constant worship of Eleanor, she never truly trusts him.
Then, in the Middle East, she ventures to a Sultan's palace, hoping to negotiate in earnest for Simon's captive brother. Whether in public matters of state or in private, Eleanor always gets her way with Simon despite Simon constantly telling her to learn her woman's place. So gaily, Eleanor assumes all men from the time period will honor and worship her esteemed status as Princess of England on a pedestal like her husband Simon does. Similar to most men during the time period, when the Sultan doesn't feel the same way as Simon, she's shocked. Well, duh! Her plight to free Simon's brother quickly turns ugly.
Eleanor may be passionate, but she's definitely not affectionate or understanding or smart.
The Story (briefly).
Ever since she was a small girl, Princess Eleanor Plantagenet, dreams of marrying her hero the marshal of England, William Marshal. Eleanor is willful and usually has the many men in her life wrapped around her finger and finally her brother the feckless King Henry arranges the marriage of 40+ year-old William Marshal to Eleanor when she's 9 years old. William is a kind and strong character, and Eleanor resolves to please him by subduing her will and passion and become the wife William wants. William honorably abstains from a sexual union with Eleanor until she's 16 and mature enough. Both Eleanor and William grow to love each fondly during the year before she turns 16, since Eleanor has grown into a beautiful woman and William lusts for her now.
I liked reading about a heroine's first love. Unlike Chadwick's LORDS OF THE WHITE CASTLE though, it was too idealistic and there's an instant attraction and love between Eleanor & William despite the vast age difference. LORDS OF THE WHITE CASTLE described the heroine's growing fondness and love for her old, first husband over time, which seemed more appropriate.
After a poisoning plot kills her husband William, Eleanor mourns and vows to remain chaste in widowhood before the Church. Enter Simon de Montfort close to 200 pages later, the "greatest warrior" of the time, a behemoth in proportions, honorable, shrewd, and a man who adopts and loves England as his own country. Simon of course pursues Eleanor relentlessly after their first meeting and finally Eleanor relents.
From the moment Simon enters the story, the book is more about Simon's enormous size than anything else, and the poisoning plot was dropped too conveniently later on. The "epic" feeling of the early pages quickly dissipates, and the love between Eleanor & Simon seemed a one-way street throughout with Simon giving all to Eleanor.
The prose is below-average, the plotting just average, the settings fairly nonexistent, the characterizations too childish (Eleanor) or too perfect (Simon), and the romance/love mostly dry.
I'm not giving up on Virginia Henley though, there's potential and I'm curious to see her more recent writing.