Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book Review: Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman

Although I am a big fan of Sharon Kay Penman's historical fiction and mysteries, I confess I was disappointed with her latest historical novel, Lionheart, about King Richard I of England.

Penman, a former attorney, is a meticulous researcher. I have found her stories to be historically accurate and free from the anachronisms that plague much historical fiction. 

Herein lies the problem, I think: the author and her story got lost in the weeds of her extensive research on the Third Crusade. This book is far more history than fiction. It needed a good editor to pare down the recitation of facts and genealogy that bogged it down, and to encourage more of the character development that is a great strength of Penman's other work. Most of the characters in the book (including King Richard) are one-dimensional.

Alternatively, it could have been a good work of non-fiction. I admire the author's thorough research and use of primary resources. In fact Penman says in her afterword that she developed so much information about Richard I that she found it could not all be used in one book--which was her original plan.

Penman plans a second part to her story of the Lionheart--picking up after the Third Crusade where this novel ends and continuing through the King's capture and subsequent life. That book will be called The King's Ransom. I'll probably read it and will be interested to see if the author gets out of the weeds of history and regains her creative approach to telling the story. 

I would only recommend the book for Penman fans because it is atypical of her writing. If you have never read her work, start with any of her other novels, like The Sunne In Splendor or When Christ and All His Saints Slept.

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