Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman – Book Review

Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman
Published by Putnam Books, an imprint of Penguin

This is the fourth book in the Devil’s Brood series. This review does not contain spoilers for the previous book, beyond the actual history. I have previously reviewed the third book, The Devil’s Brood.

In her latest work of epic historical fiction, Lionheart, Sharon Kay Penman explores the reign of Richard I, Richard Coeur de Lion. In particular, Penman focuses on Richard as Crusader-King.

Penman is a true master of historical fiction. There is a lot of repetition in the story of the Third Crusade, falling back, advancing, gaining cities and losing them again, Richard riding out with seeming disregard for his personal safety. And yet, Lionheart is a book I didn’t want to stop reading, despite its being 600 pages long. Penman’s strength is in bringing her historical characters vividly to life, without changing their stories or personalities for dramatic effect.

Part of what makes Lionheart so compelling is Penman’s narrator, using the third personal intimate voice, switching not only between Richard and some of his men, but also between his sister Joanna and his wife Berengaria.  The women and their retinue – unconventionally following the men on the Crusade, as did Joanna and Richard’s mother Eleanor when she was married to the French king – lent some relief what might have otherwise been a bleak and seemingly endless campaign, bringing humanity to the proceedings in Richard’s camp.

Lionheart is another extremely strong showing from Sharon Kay Penman, and a fascinating look at Richard the Lionheart, Crusader King. The only real negative to reading something by Penman is that it reminds you that she has so many other fabulous (but long!) books that you haven’t read it, thereby stalling your entire TBR list. Highly recommended.

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Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
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