Publishers Weekly gave a positive review of When Christ and His Saints Slept. The book was described as a "magnificent combination of history and humanity" in which Penman presents "complicated politics" in a persuasive manner with well-presented characters. Although based on real life historical characters—Queen Maude and King Stephen are the main protagonists—it was thought that, in the fictional character Ranulf, Penman added a "successful addition". The only complaint was that the era in which Penman sets the action (12th century England) "lacks epic qualities." The novel had a first printing of 75,000 copies with a major ad and promotion campaign and author tour.