Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman is a historical fiction book about Richard I and the Third Crusade. This is a well researched book which is fascinating and exciting.
Richard I, better known in his nom de guerre “Lionheart,” takes his vows seriously, including the one to free Jerusalem from Salah-a-Din. He leaves his kingdom and together with King Philip of France they make their way, with their armies, to the Holy Land.
Lionheart is historical fiction at its best. The research is impressive and Ms. Penman doesn’t try to fit the history to her story, but writes the story around history.
I have always been fascinated by “Richard the Lionhearted,” the nickname probably garnered from the “guest appearance” in Robin Hood which spurred up the imagination of an eight-year old boy more than sparked from his deeds.
The author brings King Richard to life, not only his battle glory, but also the man in all his splendor, his sardonic wit, battle commander genius and misunderstanding of women. Something most men share. Richard, who thinks nothing of sacrificing his own life, agonized to no end about his battle plans and minimizing casualties. The battle-scarred solider, who understands and respects his enemies, still understands the importance of making an entrance, whether by land or by sea: “Richard began to curse, ‘Bleeding Christ! I was so sure that raven swine would hit us from the rear! Take over, Jaufre!’”
I enjoyed the descriptions of battles, large and small, the tactics involved, the agonizing decisions commanders must endure as well as the impossible logistics of taking an army across the ocean with no means of support. The author goes into great lengths describing Richard’s success, some of it luck, but most of it meticulous planning and audacity, both in the field of diplomacy and war.
While Richard I is certainly the main figure in Lionheart, there are many other historical figures. Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, his mother, Richard’s sister Joanna and his wife Berengaria all have a major roles in the novel, and are depicted in an interesting and involved manner.
I enjoyed this book tremendously, but be aware that this is not an easy novel to read. There are many characters, each of them a world of their own, complex, multi-faceted with strange and fascinating relationships among them. The book also includes political struggles and intense back-stories, together with the fighting (they always go together, don’t they?).
While Lionheart ended at the end of the Third Crusade, Ms. Penman stated that Richard I’s life was so full that it would take more books to cover it. I, for one, am looking forward to the rest.
One of the benefits of having this blog is that I get introduced to writers, new and established, whom I never got the chance to read. I’m extremely glad that I had a chance to review this book, and am planning to read more of Ms. Penman’s books in the future. Not only are her books well received but her blog is one of the best author’s blogs I have encountered. She writes about many interesting subjects and, best of all, about her historical research.