Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I meant to put the book review I did for Sharon Penman's new book Lionheart up on the blog, though I did link to it on LibraryThing. Anyway, as the book release date is coming up soon (4 October according to Amazon), I thought I'd post it here as well. So here goes...

Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman.

Covering the period July 1189 through September 1192, this is very much Part I of a two volume book. To say that it traces Richard Lionheart's involvement in the Third Crusade and his marriage to Berengaria of Navarre is too simple a description of a narrative which starts with a three page list of principal characters and stretches in its field of action from northern England to the Holy Land; to say that it includes a cast of thousands is no exaggeration. Penman paints a vast and minutely detailed picture; indeed the depth of detail (and the extensive and impressive research behind it) is both a strength and a weakness of this book.

The first eighty pages sometimes seem to drag as Penman jumps from location to location, viewpoint to viewpoint, in the process of introducing all her principals and providing the necessary thumbnail sketches of their backgrounds. At last, however, the various parties (fated to converge in Sicily) get on the road, and the pace picks up slightly. By the time we reach Cyprus the action is fairly brisk. The rest of the book, located in the Holy Land, mostly holds this pace, although there are some slow sections now and again which deal mainly with the labyrinthine politics of the Crusade, often seeming to take the principals in slow ponderous circles at an enormous cost in blood, treasure, and general suffering.

The conclusion of the book sees Richard's departure from the Holy Land, sailing back to Western Europe to try and salvage his battered empire. History (and Penman's afterword) tells us the fate of most of the principals, but it's partly the future of two minor but appealing invented characters which will lure me back to read the next volume. Overall, an impressive achievement, highly recommended for Penman's fans and those interested in the Angevins and the Third Crusade. Four stars out of five.

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

-G R Grove

And that's it for today.

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