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?