During one of my trawls through the used booksellers was the joy of discovering Sharon Kay Penman's historical fiction novels of early medieval England and Wales. For lovers of medieval history, these are a must.
She brings to her writings an elegance of style, rarely matched, and an ability to absorb the reader into the world she presents.
In the medieval history she presents, the ideas and concepts she proposes, are so acutely drawn that any preconceptions we might have had about some of the characters and events are discarded as we become more attuned to what is presented … allowing us, the readers, to discover a whole new perspective.
Another key element in Sharon Kay Penman's books is her ability not to just humanize people long gone, but to make them come alive by interweaving beautifully depicted stories of the heart – men and women who loved – in the midst of political expediency, betrayal, dynastic imperative and implacable enmity – but never at the expense of historical veracity … realistic fiction at its best.
Such qualities make her novels some of the best historical fiction books available today … very satisfying for a bookworm like me.
The love between: Richard 111 and Anne Neville; Llewellyn the Great and Joanna; Henry 11 and Eleanor of Aquitaine; and others are lucidly told with sensitivity and nuance adding to the drama of the bigger world in which they lived.
Penman's ability as a master storyteller weaves such spells on us, the readers, it makes it hard to return to the 21st century from a 13th century so compelling illustrated and dramatically recreated. Anyone who enjoys historical fiction books will find that adding her work to your must read list won't be wasted.
Engrossing is perhaps the best word to use about her books. They are some of the best books to read.
The Sunne in Splendor (1982)
This historical novel vividly narrates the story of Richard 111 – the last Plantagenet King of England – and the author's balanced and objective view makes this a delightful read – about a King whom history has often vilified.
Here be Dragons (1985)
The story of King John, his daughter Joanna and Llewellyn the Great of Wales and the events surrounding their lives – and the struggle to revive an independent Wales. The love story of Llewellyn and Joanna will tear at your heart strings. But make no mistake it is not just a soppy romance yarn – but a stirring tale of momentous events.
Falls the Shadow (1988)
The author presents a tapestry of the events that surrounded the son of King John – Henry 111 – and the clash with Simon de Montfort. Rich in imagery, awash with intrigue, lost hopes and broken dreams, the novel draws us in while never betraying a rigorous adherence to detail and facts.
This trilogy is the place to begin and discover Penman – a journey through those top selling books is well worth your time and one which you will want to continue.
The Reckoning (1991)
Follows on with Henry 111 and introduces his son Edward 1 and Llewellyn ap Gruffydd. It is the continuing story of another Llewellyn's attempts to build a free Wales this time pitted against the ruthless Edward (called Longshanks) – the nemesis of Braveheart
When Christ and His Angels Slept (1995)
Returns to the period immediately before King John – to the civil strife that resulted from the clash between King Stephen and the Empress Maude – claimants both to the Confessor's throne. It also introduces Henry 11 and Eleanor of Aquitaine – Henry who inherits what his mother Maude could not win. This was an England torn apart by the ambitions of the Maude and Stephen.
Time and Chance (2002)
The sequel to 'When Christ and His Angels Slept' recounts the magnificent, yet stormy, love story of Henry 11 and Eleanor of Aquitaine and the events they presided over – the rise to power of Henry; her first marriage to Louis of France; her subsequent joining with Henry; the murder of Thomas Beckett.
The Devil's Brood released in October 2008
Just an update: it is now February 2010 and Sharon is busy with the next novel about the Plantagenets "Lionheart" – this is due mid year (hopefully).