Friday, November 5, 2010

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman

The book's synopsis from the author's website:

Here Be DragonsBastard-born but cherished daughter of King John, Joanna becomes a political pawn when her adored father arranges her marriage to Llewelyn Prince of Gwynedd, Wales, his bitter foe. The young bride is a stranger in a hostile land, married to a man she does not know. Until she comes to love her brilliant husband, leader of men, and passionate opponent to the English laws that chain his homeland. And as bloody wars break out once more between England and Wales, Joanna is caught in the crossfire of fatal enmity, her loyalties cruelly divided between her father and the man she loves.

The battle-torn land could not be more ravaged than her troubled, turbulent heart, and in a moment of confused, guilty passion that she will never forget, Joanna risks her peace of mind, her freedom ... even her life.

This sweeping saga of true events in the thirteenth century, beginning Sharon Penman's magnificent trilogy of England and Wales, is a tangled, tempestuous story of power and passion, loyalty and lies ...

Splendid! That's all I have to say...just kidding, but if I ever were forced to summarize this book in one word, 'splendid' would be the one. Here Be Dragons is the reason why exactly I read and love historical fiction. This is a kind of book that gives you a story you can truly lose yourself in, lock the world away and pretend for at least the hours you're reading that nothing else but what's happening on the pages of the book exists.

Here Be Dragons is the first book by Sharon Penman I've ever read but it's enough for me to know that this author truly is a master of her art. She painted such a vivid physical and emotional landscape of the 13th century England and Wales, and people ruling them, that it was sometimes very difficult for me to return to the present without regrets. please, don't take it as gushings of a drama queen here, because I'm certainly no drama queen and I rarely love a book this much. That's why when it happens, it is all the more memorable.

Now, mind you, Here Be Dragons is probably not the book for people who are just trying to get into historical fiction. It's a chunkster with tons of characters, a lot of history packed into it, a lot of intrigue and events to pay attention to, and while those are the reasons why I love it so and I'm sure most history buffs do too, some who are just starting may get turned of by the 'too-muchness' of it all. Nonetheless, in the end, I found I cared for almost all characters, even the most vile, because Ms. Penman did a superb job of showing two sides to every story, two sides to every person. Even the cruel king John of England awoke feelings of pity and compassion even sometimes. By the same token, I also got mad and turned off by some of the things done by Llewelyn (the good character) or his wife, Joanna (who by the way, really pissed me off a few times there).

Thank goodness this book is the first in the trilogy of the Welsh Princes and the first of the many books Sharon Kay Penman wrote. Even though I've waited a long time to discover this writer, I now have hours upon hours of more splendid reading ahead of me, because I have no doubt that her other books will be just as good.