Friday, March 26, 2021

HERE BE DRAGONS

 


Here Be Dragons, Sharon Kay Penman, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1985, 701 pp

How do you choose what to read next? For me it is complex. I have lists, I have plans, I have impulses. I first learned about Sharon Kay Penman from a blogger. Helen at She Reads Novels, my favorite historical fiction blog, has reviewed Penman's books over the years. Since her books are often long, as is this one, I kept putting off reading her.

The impulse came when I learned of Ms Penman's death on January 22 of this year. I then felt guilty for not having read her yet because I would no longer be able to tell her if I liked her books. It also happens that I am gradually making my way through Will Durant's The Age of Faith, a history of the Middle Ages.

Here Be Dragons, set in Medieval England and Wales, is a historical fiction lover's dream come true. Solid research; the evocation of time and place, people and customs; dramatic set pieces that bring wars and kings and feuds and families to life; and best of all to me, equal time given to the women.

The story ranges from 1133 to 1216 during the reigns of several Plantagenet Kings: Henry II, his sons Richard I (the Lion Heart) and King John. Eleanor of Aquitaine appears, wife of Henry II, mother of Richard I and John. She does not come across as favorably as she does in other stories I have read but she looms large.

The focus however is Wales and the exploits of her Princes, including both internal feuds and their attempts to keep the English Kings out of their country. When King John marries off his illegitimate daughter Joanna to the powerful Welsh Prince Llewelyn, in an attempt to secure a truce, the stage is set for a grand passion fraught with conflicting loyalties.

I spent many days reading Here Be Dragons. I was never bored. In fact, I was spellbound. I love studying history and then reading the historical novels that bring the key figures and the attendant families and personal struggles down to the everyday particulars.

This was a perfect example of that with a passionate love story that includes great sex and stormy emotions but is never overdone. I will read more by Sharon Kay Penman. She wrote 13 other books!

Have you read this author? If so, which ones are your favorites?

26 comments:

  1. Historical fiction is so hit and miss for me. Sometimes there's not enough details and the story feels like it was set in our time with a few things changed and then there are the ones that are far too bogged down with details that I get bored. This doesn't sound like either of those!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, she struck the right balance!

      Delete
  2. As previously mentioned on Sarah's Blog I thought I hadn't heard of this author until I realised I had a copy of 'Lionheart' by her not two feet from me as I type. The Plantagenet to Tudor Periods is a fascinating time in British history. If you're fans of Game of Thrones you really don't need to look much further for the real thing here - minus the White Walkers!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She mostly stays in that period. I had not ever been interested in Game of Thrones (don't hate me) but now that I have learned so much about the Middle Ages from Will Durant, it suddenly hit me that Game of Thrones is set in that period. More books for me to read!
      Lionheart is the first of two about Richard I, the second one is called A King's Ransom.
      As I said in my review, she does the women in a way that suits me. I wonder if I would feel that way about Game of Thrones.

      Delete
    2. I understand that GoT was based on the Wars of the Roses and I can see that. George R R Martin essentially added the Fantasy elements to that rather nasty conflict. The women in GoT (the TV series at least - I haven't read the books yet) are VERY strong characters. Even the bad ones are brilliant.

      Delete
  3. I have not read this author, but this sounds like something I would enjoy. Thank you for bringing her to my attention.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are most welcome. I am so glad I finally read her!

      Delete
  4. Here be dragons makes me think of ancient maps where that was noted on the middle of the oceans!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, me too! There are actually no dragons in the story but Wales was somewhat on the edge of things then.

      Delete
  5. i've been curious about Ms. Penman for years, noting her books in sales and stores... i should be a bit more forward, i guess... enticing post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you might find them on the edge of things you like to read.

      Delete
  6. I'm so glad you enjoyed this, Judy! I think her book about Richard III, The Sunne in Splendour, is the best, but I did love this one too. She also wrote two other books about the Welsh Princes - Falls the Shadow, which is another good one, and The Reckoning, which I haven't read yet but hope to soon!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope to read them all someday. I have you to thank for bringing this author to my attention.

      Delete
  7. I have never read this author, and I didn't know her but I felt very sad when I read in your post that she died not long ago. I think I'd love this book so it's going straight away to my Goodreads. When I have to choose my next book I usually do it by impulse :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I was sad too. She was 75. Thank you for answering the question in my first sentence!

      Delete
  8. I did not know of Ms. Penman either ... but I was impressed & saddened by her NYT obit. She must have been an expert on England's past. Glad you enjoyed her historical novel. What I read next is based much on impulses and timing (of what I comes off hold at the library)... and also lists too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think she pretty much devoted her writing life to England's past. Funny because she was American. Impulses, timing and lists sounds a lot like my method!

      Delete
  9. I think this is one of her best and I am so glad you enjoyed it. I had to email the NYT about doing an obituary for her but it was so good once they did it that my uncle wrote to me to ask which book of hers he should start with. I hesitated between this and The Sunne in Splendour. I think the Reckoning is the one that made me start sobbing when I began, due to a favorite character dying in the previous book and being reminded of it. Isn't that the sign of a really good book?!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Constance, I love your comments here. Perhaps I will read The Sunne in Splendor next and just carry on from there. So many characters to love, so many to abhor. When a favorite dies and you cry, that is for sure the sign of a really good book!

      Delete
  10. a very good author! Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  11. I have not read anything written by Sharon Kay Penman. In fact, I've never even heard of her before. I do enjoy historical fiction, so I will add her name to authors to read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Based on this book, I would say she is one of the best. Thank you for catching up on all my posts today!

      Delete
  12. Penman is the best of the best. Her research is without equal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am so glad I have finally read her.

      Delete