My first though upon finally finishing this book was "free at last! thank god almighty I'm free at last!" Which is a shame, because for the first 650 or so pages if this book I was really enjoying myself and admiring Penman's skill with character. But the last part of the book--as we shifted away from Maude and Stephen and into Henry and Eleanor--was a brutal slog that went out with a whimper. Which I guess is comparable to Stephen's kingship, so maybe we should pretend it was all done on purpose?