During one of my trawls through the used booksellers was the joy of discovering Sharon Kay Penman’s historical fiction novels of early medieval England and Wales. For lovers of medieval history, these are a must. She brings to her writings an elegance of style, rarely matched, and an ability to absorb the reader into the world she presents.
In the medieval history she presents, the ideas and concepts she proposes, are so acutely drawn that any preconceptions we might have had about some of the characters and events are discarded as we become more attuned to what is presented.... allowing us, the readers, to discover a whole new perspective.
Another key element in Sharon Kay Penman's books is her ability not to just humanize people long gone, but to make them come alive by interweaving beautifully depicted stories of the heart – men and women who loved – in the midst of political expediency, betrayal, dynastic imperative and implacable enmity - but never at the expense of historical veracity....realistic fiction at its best.
Such qualities make her novels some of the best historical fiction books available today.... very satisfying for a bookworm like me.
The love between: Richard 111 and Anne Neville; Llewellyn the Great and Joanna; Henry 11 and Eleanor of Aquitaine; and others are lucidly told with sensitivity and nuance adding to the drama of the bigger world in which they lived.
Penman’s ability as a master storyteller weaves such spells on us, the readers, it makes it hard to return to the 21st century from a 13th century so compelling illustrated and dramatically recreated. Anyone who enjoys historical fiction books will find that adding her work to your must read list won’t be wasted.
Engrossing is perhaps the best word to use about her books. They are some of the best books to read.
ANNOUNCEMENT: Devil's Brood is now available and it's continuation is now being written, hopefully due in 2013.
Where the second novel in the trilogy, Time And Chance, dealt with the extraordinary politics of the twelfth century, climaxing with the murder of Thomas Becket and Henry’s confrontation with the Church and self-imposed exile to Ireland, Devil’s Brood centers on the implosion of a family. And because it is a royal family whose domains span the English Channel and whose alliances encompass the Christian world, that collapse will have dire consequences.
"Penman does a remarkable job of depicting passionate, dramatic characters and the perilous times in which they live. For those who like their historical fiction as complex and tightly woven as a medieval tapestry, this book cannot fail to please. Highly recommended."--Library Journal
A great site to explore - for an idea of some of the places in her books is Castles of Wales
You can also find on Sharon's site a link to the French Castles featured in Devil's Brood - well worth a browse to capture some of the atmosphere. That link is below next to the 2 dragons.
The Sunne in Splendour (1982)
This historical novel vividly narrates the story of Richard 111 – the last Plantagenet King of England – and the author’s balanced and objective view makes this a delightful read – about a King whom history has often vilified.
Here be Dragons (1985)
The story of King John, his daughter Joanna and Llewellyn the Great of Wales and the events surrounding their lives – and the struggle to revive an independent Wales. The love story of Llewellyn and Joanna will tear at your heart strings. But make no mistake it is not just a soppy romance yarn – but a stirring tale of momentous events.
Falls the Shadow (1988)
The author presents a tapestry of the events that surrounded the son of King John – Henry 111 – and the clash with Simon de Montfort. Rich in imagery, awash with intrigue, lost hopes and broken dreams, the novel draws us in while never betraying a rigourous adherence to detail and facts.
This trilogy is the place to begin and discover Penman – a journey through those top selling books is well worth your time and one which you will want to continue.
The Reckoning (1991)
Follows on with Henry 111 and introduces his son Edward 1 and Llewellyn ap Gruffydd. It is the continuing story of another Llewellyn’s attempts to build a free Wales this time pitted against the ruthless Edward (called Longshanks) – the nemesis of Braveheart.
When Christ and His Saints Slept (1995)
Returns to the period immediately before King John – to the civil strife that resulted from the clash between King Stephen and the Empress Maude – claimants both to the Confessor’s throne. It also introduces Henry 11 and Eleanor of Aquitaine – Henry who inherits what his mother Maude could not win. This was an England torn apart by the ambitions of the Maude and Stephen.
Time and Chance (2002)
The sequel to ‘When Christ and His Angels Slept’ recounts the magnificent, yet stormy, love story of Henry 11 and Eleanor of Aquitaine and the events they presided over – the rise to power of Henry; her first marriage to Louis of France; her subsequent joining with Henry; the murder of Thomas Beckett.
Her Medieval Mysteries – historical thrillers
For a book worm who cannot get enough of either the author or Eleanor of Aquitaine, her mystery books set in Eleanor's time are a great read. They are the sort of recreational reading that is ideal for summer reading at the beach - or just for a break.Principal character Justin de Quincy – agent who acts for Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen Mother of England and Regent.
The Queen’s Man (1996)
Cruel as the Grave (1998) – nominated for an Edgar for First Best Mystery
Dragon’s Lair (2003)
Prince of Darkness (2005)
Although these are imaginary tales she still demonstrates a keen understanding of time and place, and renders historical figures in terms of flesh and blood, rather than as cardboard cutouts. Whether it be for simply reading for relaxation or wanting to know more about the era – her books will satisfy on all levels.
BTW – for those wanting to know more about WalesThere is now a Welsh website which features her Welsh trilogy, Here De Dragons, Falls the Shadow, and The Reckoning. The URL is www.princesofgwynedd.com It was put together by the Betws-y-Coed District Tourist Association
Go to her WEBSITE for more complete details and information
Just a little extra - a bit of trivia
Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of the great figures of the 12th Century – and few have equalled her since. Promoter of the Age of Chivalry and Romantic Love; one time Queen of France, long time Queen of England; mother of Richard the Lionheart and King John; she was the richest heiress in Europe – all facets of a woman dwarfing most of the men of her time – and equaling those whom she didn’t overshadow.
Tomb of Eleanor and Henry
The Lion in Winter
If you want to get a feel for the relationship between Henry and Eleanor – rent the DVD of “The Lion in Winter” (the O’Toole and Hepburn version). Although dealing with a later period in their lives – it is so memorable that you get hooked on them. Katharine Hepburn is everything I imagine Eleanor to be like. It is just wonderful, wonderful acting by all in the cast …. And bloody good fun.
The sequel to Lionheart is "A KING'S RANSOM"
This long-anticipated sequel to the national bestseller Lionheart is a vivid and heart-wrenching story of the last event-filled years in the life of Richard, Coeur de Lion.
PRE-ORDER your copy form Amazon now!!!
Publication is due in March - THIS ALLOWS YOU TO AMONG THE VERY FIRST TO READ IT!
LIONHEART - continues the story of the Plantagenets
(see Devil's Brood)- focusing on Richard Couer de Lion (Lionheart)successor to Henry 11.
It covers his crusade and ends with the beginning of his return journey to home.