Synopsis: They were called “The Devil’s Brood,” though never to their faces. They were the four surviving sons of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine. With two such extraordinary parents, much was expected of them.
But the eldest-charming yet mercurial-would turn on his father and, like his brother Geoffrey, meet an early death. When Henry died, Richard would take the throne and, almost immediately, set off for the Holy Land. This was the Third Crusade, and it would be characterized by internecine warfare among the Christians and extraordinary campaigns against the Saracens. And, back in England, by the conniving of Richard’s youngest brother, John, to steal his crown.
First Line: Alicia had been fearful long before she faced death in the Straits of Messina.
Random Quote: It is always better to let men think you’re one of God’s great fools than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.
Review: I’ve been reading Sharon Kaye Penman from the beginning with her very first book, The Sunne in Splendour. My copy of this book has been re-read so many times it’s close to needing replacing. She is one of my favorite authors, although she does spoil you for historical fiction. Once you’re hooked on Penman, most other historical fiction falls far short of the mark she sets. She’s smart, she writes well, she does an enormous amount of study of primary sources before she writes, and the stories she tells are so fascinating you’ll go back to them again and again.
Lionheart is the penultimate in Ms. Penman’s books on Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their Devil’s Brood. I have a fondness for Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and no one’s written better about them. Given the name it’s not hard to figure out that this one is about Richard the Lionheart – considered to be one of England’s great kings and one of the greatest war commanders ever.
I’ve always been less fond of Richard than of the youngest of the brood, John. Richard is always presented as so big and bold – brash, daring, bigger than life, self-righteous, reckless. He’s an amazing character, but something about John has also appealed to me (yes, I know, he’s generally thought of as a villain). I think I like John because he was a survivor and because he was a pragmatist. He was always more concerned with the administration of his kingdom and of justice. He inherited a rudimentary justice system and spent a great deal of time expanding and formalizing it. He was also selfish, arrogant, sort of spineless, and left his father (who loved him greatly) to die alone.
In any event, Richard is very heroic and Ms. Penman has not forgotten that. This is a novel of the Third Crusade, with all its betrayals and internecine warfare between the various European factions attempting to work together to take Jerusalem. As we all know, this region has never been kind to invaders – has always been a hotbed of religious warfare. Seeing this through 12th century eyes is an interesting experience, particularly since the broad brush strokes of it all seem so very modern in their own way. It is as if the Crusades have never really ended and no one has learned anything from them.
Richard proves himself an almost invincible battle commander, charismatic, and pragmatic – opening discussions between himself and Saladin trying for a long-term peace over the ignominy of capturing Jerusalem only to see it lost again when he and the rest of the Crusaders returned home.
This is a wonderful and entertaining read, illuminating a time in history most of us know little about. As always Ms. Penman’s writing and storytelling skills carry the day and will carry you through to end – leaving you craving more.
Publishing Information: G.P. Putman’s Sons – October 4, 2011
FTC Disclosure: I bought it for my own sweet self
Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reading Challenge, Mammoth Book Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge