Tuesday, February 11, 2014

376 (2014 #4). A King's Ransom

by Sharon Kay Penman

It probably seems like I haven't been reading a lot lately, since this is just book #4 for 2014, but most of the books have been LONG.   This one was 685 pages.  I received it through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, probably because I have read and reviewed so many books about British kings and queens, mostly historical fiction and biographical novels, by Alison Weir, Hilary Mantel, Margaret George, and Philippa Gregory.

This was the first book I've read by Sharon Kay Penman, however, although I've certainly heard of her.  A King's Ransom is the fifth (and supposedly last) book in her self-named Henry II Trilogy, but you don't have to have read any of the previous books to understand this one.

This book covers the last six-plus years of the life of Richard I of England (Richard the Lionheart), from his return from the Third Crusade in the Holy Land in late 1192, to his death in April 1199 (and a bit beyond that, to finish the story of his beloved sister Joanna and indomitable mother Eleanor of Aquitane).  During his trip home, Richard was captured by Leopold, Duke of Austria, and then imprisoned for 14 months by Heinrich, the Holy Roman Emperor.  He had to pay a huge ransom and provide high-born hostages (including some of his own kin) to finally be released.  He spent the last five years of his life in almost constant warfare with Philippe, the King of France, worried about his younger brother John, who'd plotted against him while he was at the Crusades and in captivity.

Penman implies that Richard suffered from some sort of post-traumatic stress after his captivity, and hints that (and embarrassment about being captured) led to an estrangement from his wife, Berengaria of Navarre.  They spent little time together and Richard died without an heir.  Some historians think Richard might have been homosexual and that may have been the reason, but Penman discounts that theory in her author's note at the end of the book.

That note, by the way, is excellent, as are the preceding Afterword and following Acknowledgements, documenting Penman's sources.  It's obvious this novel is well-researched.  The beginning of the book has a list of all the real-people characters, which is helpful.  The only thing lacking in this advanced reader's edition was a map.  I do hope one is included when the book is published on March 4, as it would be helpful, and interesting to see where the places in the novel are in present-day political boundaries.

I haven't read any previous books about Richard the Lionheart, and I learned a lot about him from this book.  The novel also sparked a desire to learn more about him; always the mark of good historical fiction. I'd be interested in reading the rest of the books in the series, as well as Penman's The Sunne in Splendour, about Richard III of England, and her next book (currently titled The Land Beyond the Sea), a novel set in the Kingdom of Jerusalem during the time of the Crusades.  However, I next need to tackle one of my three unread Margaret George books, each 630 or more pages.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[I received this advance reader's edition through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

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