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Penman outdoes herself in this one
on 18 March 2014
I don't think it's any secret that I'm a huge Penman fan (or Penmenian as my good friend J calls it), and I was thrilled to spot this on the Vine newsletter and get an early shot at it.
This is a difficult book to review, since those who are familiar with Richard's history don't need another rehash, and those fresh to the story don't need me spilling the beans. And trust me, there are plenty of surprises to be had, even for those who think they know about Richard being held hostage and his troubles with the French king and his younger brother John.
That pretty much leaves me to discussing MY reading experience, and all I can say is WOW. I was gripped on the first pages with the cat and mouse came of getting home from crusade and trying to avoid the snares set to capture him. While I was aware that Richard had spent time in Germany as a hostage, there was much more to the story, and I was fascinated watching how that experience changed him and how he interacted with others in his life, especially his marriage to Berengeria. I loved his sarcastic nature (he gets some of the best dialogue!) when it was directed towards younger brother John and Philippe Capet (the French king). And speaking of Richard's younger brother John, some of my favorite moments were the family Christmas celebrations and watching him trolling the room for gossip and mischief. I so wish I could quote some of it. It doesn't get better than that.
While this book is a follow up to Lionheart, IMHO it can be read as a stand-alone, and another thumbs up to the author for getting the reader up to speed on previous events without the use of tedious info dumps. I also appreciated how Raimond was used to get the reader up to speed with the Cathar religion, and why the Catholic church was so set against it. There is a fairly large cast of characters (my copy had a reference sheet at the front), and I recommend using it. My knowledge of the Holy Roman Empire is pretty poor, and I did need some help trying to keep track of some of the minor players, especially when the names were similar. Once things moved back to Normandy and Richard's efforts to regain the lands he'd lost, I was hooked until the very last pages. These are strictly my opinions I'm expressing, but I didn't see Richard as a glorified, romantic hero. I found this to be a very well-rounded, fair look at a very complicated man and king.
As for the ending? Knowing Richard's history there were things I knew would happen and was prepared for - and I can't say more - but I will say that I have not had to put a book down and have a good cry since I read The Reckoning, the last in her Welsh trilogy.
It may be only early February, but I'm still willing to call this one of the best reads I'll have all year. One final note, if you are torn between purchasing the physical book over a digital version, I'd recommend the latter. The book is a huge doorstopper, and my dodgy elbow took a beating trying to hold it up. Plus the cat was a bit put out - book and cat could not fit on the lap at the same time, and the little darling does so like her lap time.
My copy obtained via Amazon Vine, US.