Sharon Penman - Lionheart

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Nov 23, 2002
Stopped off for petrol and the garage had a few titles on the shelf - saw one not only about Richard the Lionheart, but also written by Sharon Penman who wrote that great epic on the War of the Roses.

Am hoping for good things here. :)
My lodger's just started that book but as a non-native English speaker he's a bit slow reading and is only a handful of pages in. So I can't give you any verdict on it.
Always. :)

But it's hard separating the wheat from the chaff. Penman's Sunne in Splendour was very good, and while she has other books out, this one especially caught my attention. :)
I read Sunne in Splendour because it covers the War of the Roses, and is cited as an influence on GRRM. Some of the characters she uses are clearly templates for some of those later on in Game of Thrones.

The book did drift a bit at the end, trying a bit too hard to be sympathetic to Richard III, though. It's also written in an omniscient POV I find a little irritating - characters who appear simply to be observers and over hear conversations. But minor criticisms.

Nearest I can think of is Colleen McCulloughs Roman republic series, starting with "First Man of Rome".

Personally my favourite historical fantasy so far as been Robert Fabri's Vespasian series. It has a very good pace, doesn't drift, puts his research in the centre stage (he has a chariot race brimming with detail not simply of the races, but the specatators and the betting process) - and his characters think in relatively brutal Roman terms by comparison to our modern sensibilities, which is nice because too often people want historical characters to be framed by modern standards.

But I digress. :)
Hi Brian,

Lionheart is the 4th book in her series dealing with the early Plantagenet kings. Although you do not need to earlier books I would recommend the third book, The Devils Brood, as this sets up Richard's character for Lionheart. Personally I found this book one of her weaker offerings, albeit it was still an enjoyable read.
Am finding Lionheart a bit of a weak read so far - only 40 pages in, but there seems a lot missed out.

For example, we've followed a few different women so far, whose only purpose appears to be to reveal different aspects of the political world of men. Penman also head hops a lot and makes no effort to get into the emotional being of any character - after one women is widowed, Penman pulls back into a short dialogue and shows us nothing of her feelings and grief, excepting for other people looking at her and thinking she looks a bit sad.

Also, there's a complete lack of social dynamics. Politics is all very well, but we're following a young girl in royal service early on - she appears to have no duties, no one treats her unfairly, no one resents her new appointment, the girl doesn't think upon work at all almost implying she's living a lazy carefree existence. There's a grating sense of "fairy tale" about this - all privilege and no labour.

The book started interesting enough, but so far, it's little more than dialogue about politics attributed to women's names.

It's not a bad read, but it's lacking basic literary strengths even at the start, which is surprising, but I'm happy to continue on.
Well, after that last post I read the next scene - two women gossiping. Apparently, Penman thinks that power = beauty. I had hoped it was a character conceit, but it seems to be one of the author's - kings are dashingly handsome and you can spot them a mile off without knowing they are a king, but because they are so handsome they must be a king. Er, right.

I hate to say this about a book, but it seems somehow "girly" - lots of women characters who do nothing but gossip about people and politics, and no character depth.

For an historical novel it so far lacks any suggestion of an authentic historical environment to provide context.

Not sure if it's intended, or an inconsistency, but the Kingdom of Sicily is said to be going to a ******* because the nobles had voted for it - yet later it's stated that Geoffrey cannot be king of England because the Papacy stopped bastards claiming thrones the previous century.

There's also no sense of structure or character development. It is just political history by proxy.

I'll slog on another couple of chapters, but if it doesn't improve it's going on my "started but never completed" pile and end up in a charity shop.

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