Monday, October 17, 2011

Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman

Title: Lionheart
Author: Sharon Kay Penman

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Richard / Crusades / Medieval / Military)
Publisher/Publication Date: Putnam/Marian Wood (10/4/2011)
Source: The publisher

Rating: Liked
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: Detailed, deft novel following Richard the Lionheart and his contemporaries
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I don't hate it, although I find it a bit boring. It sort of reminds me of a movie poster (I keep looking for an actor's face behind the sword and shield) but it conveys the militaristic bent to the novel.

First line: Theirs was a story that would rival the legend of King Arthur and Guinevere, his faithless queen.

Do... I love the way Penman writes about her subjects?: YES. Actually, I love the way Penman writes as an author -- she's responsive to her readers and quite devoted to keeping them happy -- and her 'Message from the Author' on Lionheart references Johnny Cash (yay!). She's someone who clearly sees and feels her historical characters as vibrant, real people, and I appreciate that.

Did... I get a hot little crush on Joanna, Richard's fascinating sister?: YES. I want a whole about about her, please!

Do... I strongly recommend Penman's blog?: YES. This might be one of my favorite author blogs -- as I keep saying, I'm wild about Penman's passion for her subjects and her craft, and I so enjoy reading her thoughts about her research and subjects.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy, especially if you're a historical fiction fan. You won't want to return this book to the library unfinished, and the size might make it hard to some to finish before the book is due back. Still, it's worth having -- I bet a reread would warrant more enjoyment!

Why did I get this book?: I love historical fiction, and I've always rather liked Richard from his role in some of the Robin Hood myths. I've always meant to read Penman's novels, so this seemed a perfect start!

Review: Sharon Kay Penman is a giant of historical fiction, recognized for her historical detail and vibrant characters. Shamefully, despite being a hist fic addict, I've never read her, so I jumped at the chance to review this book.

The novel opens with full-on drama, featuring Richard's sister Joanna and a young girl who will become her serving woman. This opening, with a lovely mix of rich historical detail and drama, immediately drew me in and I was excited to see where this 600 page novel would take me. Following Richard the Lionheart's crusade to Jerusalem, the novel covers 1189-1192, an era which, I'll be honest, is a bit fuzzy for me in terms of costuming and manners and real life, so I was relieved to find Penman's story didn't feel excessively teach-y.

According to Penman's website, Lionheart is part of her Henry II trilogy (despite being the fourth book). I haven't read the previous three books and I don't think one needs to have read them to enjoy this one. She provides enough back story to set up this novel and characters so that I never felt confused by what had happened before; whatever confusion I had was simply an unfamiliarity with the historical figures (and ohemgee, there are a million). I suppose that would be my only complaint about this novel: the enormous cast. Although three pages of characters are provided at the beginning of the book, I had to take my own notes to keep everyone straight and I didn't feel like I really got to know anyone well. I wanted especially more about the women in Richard's life -- they were fascinating people -- but to be honest, I can't say I really got to know Richard. I followed him, but I didn't know him.

Still, this is a staggering novel that covers a fascinating era. Readers who like their hist fic to focus on the history (and not, say, the sex) will love this one as it's low on salacious detail without minimizing the relationships -- romantic or otherwise. Settle in, though, if you pick this up: it's not a fast read but it is engrossing!


  1. I've never read anything about Richard the Lionheart, so this sounds very interesting to me. Glad to know that you don't have to read the other books first.

  2. @Anna: I suspect his childhood is covered by the earlier books but plunging into his life at this point was effortless. And fascinating!

  3. Oh I do not know, but there is a book I would like to read by her

  4. I wanna get my hands on this one soon! Had little crush on Richard in Devil's Brood :D I love her books and I'm glad to hear you liked this.

  5. Good review, Audra.

    I'm reading this one right now. I'm a huge fan of Penman's, but this one isn't going to be one of my favourite since it took me the first two hundred pages to get into the story. Thankfully, I'm in the zone with it now.

  6. This is right up my medievalist alley, Audra! Thanks so much for the review.

  7. @Blodeuedd: I'm really excited to go back and read the Henry VII series -- Eleanor is a favorite and as I said in my review, I just love how she talks about her characters -- such clear affection!

    @Elysium: I'm dying to read Devil's Brood now!

    @Melissa: It too took me a bit but once in the story, I was IN. Immersed. Hope you enjoy the rest of the book.

  8. Good review, Audra! I like Penman too, but in doses separated by a year or two--she is meticulous. I read her novel about Maud and Stephen, "When Christ and His Saints Slept" last year and enjoyed it quite a lot. Cheers! Chris

  9. One of my favourite authors and I'm really looking forward to Lionheart.
    Glad you enjoyed it.

  10. I love Penman's books but I am a bit behind on them! The good thing for you is that now you can discover some of her other awesome books - particularly Sunne in Splendour about Richard III and Here Be Dragons! Oh so good!

  11. This was my first Penman too, and I really loved it. The amount of detail that she puts into her work is staggering, and I really grew to love her characters. I think I have to agree with you on Joanna as well. She was fascinating! Great review on this one today!

  12. I am in the same boat - I still haven't read a Penman yet - and that is not for lack of trying, other things just keep coming up. I have a few of her books on my shelf. This one has absolutely intrigued me tho. Thanks for the review. And I too have loved Joanna in any book I have read that have featured her.