Lionheart is the latest of Penman’s sagas about the Angevin kings of England, following her two volumes about Henry I and Eleanor of Aquintaine, Time and Chance and The Devil’s Brood. This book, as you might guess from the title, tells the story of Henry and Eleanor’s most famous son, Richard I of England, also known as Richard the Lionheart.
Richard I is a king with a larger-than-life legacy, loved by some and hated by others. This novel follows his career just for two years, during the Crusades and his unsuccessful attempt to capture Jerusalem. The cast of characters is large — large enough that I kept getting minor characters confused. The two most important characters, other than Richard himself, are his widowed sister Joanna and his young bride Berengaria.
Like all Penman’s books, this one is meticulously researched, well-written and sweeping in its scope. However, I do have to say with some disappointment, as I did with my review of The Devil’s Brood, that it lacks the emotional punch of her earlier works, The Sunne in Splendour and the Welsh trilogy. The Sunne in Splendour was a maginificent book about another controversial Richard, Richard III, and the main character of that novel has lingered in my memory for years as a haunting and completely believable human being. While Penman does a better job with Richard I than many other writers would have done, he doesn’t carry that same emotional resonance for me at all. There were times, in reading the book, that I felt bogged down in military and political detail, rather than carried along by the characters and their interactions with one another. I will certainly read her follow-up book, A King’s Ransom, when it comes out, but I really hope Penman can recapture some of the magic of her earlier books, because I miss that.