Wednesday 6 January 2010

Here Be Dragons - Sharon Penman

Here Be Dragons is a sweeping historical epic concerning Llewelyn Fawr - the first self-proclaimed Prince of Wales - and his enduring love affair with Joanna, the illegitimate daughter of John, King of England. The book covers the period between 1183 and 1234, and deals in both micro and macro events. We see the world not only in terms of the major historical events that shaped that period of time but also from the point of view of characters in terms of their own relationships.

The characters are memorable and aid the reader in becoming invested in this very early period of English history. One criticism that can be levelled, however, is that the cast of characters seems to be in the hundreds and sometimes it can be difficult to tell your Wills from your Richards from your Ranulfs.

I also found it difficult at times dealing with the idea of child brides - the fact that King John perhaps took a twelve year old bride to bed is anathema to those of us in modern times, and can make for uncomfortable reading. Penman writes readily about the role of women in those days, which can also create a sense of outrage - when daughters are married away to foreign countries for political expediency, it is hard to realise that this was a common occurrence and certainly one that women prepared themselves for.

Mostly, though, this book is a joy to read and I found that the 800+ pages passed in a flash. I was eager to find out what happened to Llewelyn and Joanna. The fact that their love was served up against an historical backdrop which had been lavishly researched only added to the pleasure of reading the events.

I would recommend this wholeheartedly.

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