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Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman
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Like so many novels that extend beyond about 450 pages, Lionheart would have been much improved by some serious editing.

If I were asked where to cut, my suggestion would be about 90% of the material dealing with the perspectives of the female characters. Not because they are female characters, but because the are weak characters, and their presence in a book about the legendary Richard and his perceived failure in the Third Crusade seemed extraneous at best, and forced at worst, throughout much of the novel.

Especially when it came to the action with marriage beds, or trysts. I was distracted, and not in a pleasant way with all of the talk of the size of royal members, the bleeding to be expected from the breaking of a woman's hymen, "Christmas goose" references and climaxes at inns. Sex was and remains a part of life, but as this novel was supposed to be about the battles of a Holy Crusade, exploring such bedroom antics bore no relevance to the overall plot and really dragged things out.

Had more of the female characters been like Eleanor, (the single most complete character in the entire book) this may not have been a problem. However so many of the females in this book seemed to be as coy as a school girl, yet as horned up as a drunken cheerleader in a C-List porn. Not very interesting in either case, and certainly not at all consistent.

And it kept returning to this...did we really need the 14 year old girl asking about what it was like to "know" a man in the final fifth of the book. One of the first characters we meet in the novel that is nonetheless ignored for hundreds of pages that follow, is brought back for one ridiculous curtain call to ask older women about what sex feels like?

The sheer number of characters in general, not just the women, added to the difficulty of getting through this book. Yes, there was a chart, but if a chart is needed to keep track of who is who, the author has probably included far too many people. Not only too many people, but people with names like, "Sir Literary of Device de le Filler, Count of Excess". 12 word titles tossed about as though they were just single word nicknames...sometimes half a dozen in one sentence.

To make it worse, the point of view was constantly shifting between the scores of characters...multiple times on some pages. (A big no-no publishers give to new authors, with good reason; it is unduly confusing.)

I understand that many people were involved in the inner circle of Richard during the Crusade, but this is a novel and not a textbook. A novel requires a focus on a handful of memorable, sympathetic characters. Though its title suggests that we are supposed to join with the knights and nobles in the book in feeling amazement at the luck and courage of King Richard, after a while it tends to get lost in all of the "Lord this, cousin of Whomever, who married, Whatitz Widow to become Count of Blah." (And then all he does in the novel is pass the wine flagon during a war council, never to be mentioned again.)

Naturally much happened between battles in the crusade. Much backroom drama, personality clashes and the like. It is fitting that some of it should be included in such a novel. But so much of it, connected with so many people is inserted here that the reader tends to lose interest in battles once they finally do show up. (And when they do, many of them follow a near identical formula.)

The battles themselves, and the plans and problems leading up to them are the strongest parts of the novel. Indeed if more of the first 400 pages had resembled that last 100 pages, (which were almost totally devoted to battles and nearly free of the weak female characters), I could have given this book another star perhaps. Sadly, that tighter, more focused version of Lionheart remains forever lost to the literary world as Jerusalem remained out of Richard's reach.

The third star for the aforementioned interesting battle scenes, some acumen for character development when the author took the time to do so, and some nice prose here and there describing the settings. ( )
1 vote TyUnglebower | Jun 28, 2014 |
Eleanor of Aquitaine, a "barren queen" for Louis of France bore 4 sons for Henry II. The most notable and her favorite was Richard known as the Lionheart. After his older brother Hal's and his father's deaths, Richard became the King of the England and ruled Normandy, Aquitaine, and all the other little duchies that Henry had amassed as well but Richard was a warrior and had pledged to take the Cross and liberate Jerusalem.

Shortly after he was crowned, Richard, along with Phillipe of France, headed toward the Holy Land. He stopped in Sicily, liberated his widowed sister, married his bride from Navarre, captured Cyprus, and freed Acre once in the Holy Land. Single-minded in his quest, this skilled battle commander recklessly endangered himself to protect his own forces throughout numerous battles.

However, Richard was no diplomat and quickly alienated not only his ally, Phillipe of France, but also Conrad of Montferrat (new King of Jerusalem) and Hugh Duke of Burgundy.

Unfortunately, without the complete support of the other Christian commanders, Richard was unable to fully liberate Jerusalem from he Muslim control and was forced to a peace where the Holy Land was open to Christians but still occupied by Muslims.

This was a fascinating story filing in the portion of Richard's life that was engrossed by his quest to free the Holy Land. Very few books that I have read deal with this time in his life and I was completely engrossed. ( )
  cyderry | Dec 12, 2013 |
Richard I, or Lionheart, has inherited the throne of England. But he is a warrior king, and almost immediately he sets off on the Third Crusade to face off with Saladin and attempt to retake Jerusalem. Along the way he marries Berengaria, is reunited with his sister Joanna, and squabbles with co-crusader Philippe Capet of France. Meanwhile, little brother John is getting restive in England. Even the warrior king has a tough time fighting battles on multiple fronts.

Given that most of my knowledge of Richard comes from "the ransom years", or "the Ivanhoe/Robin Hood years", this was a very interesting book, showing the king during the Crusade itself. Life as a Crusader is captured very vividly here, and Penman does a good job of showing the complexity of life for those who live in the area full-time and who have adopted some of the local customs. Richard is given a very nuanced portrait; indeed, Penman herself notes in the author's note that the research for this book dramatically changed her view of him from single-minded, arrogant warrior to a skilled battle commander who cared deeply for the welfare of his soldiers, but was reckless about his own safety, and a man who fought his enemies but still respected their courage (and was not averse to adopting some of their more effective battle techniques).

While the battle scenes and campaigning were interesting, I was less interested in the scenes involving the women of the court, or at least some of them. The women-centred scenes focused more on their sex lives than I would have liked, and some scenes I actually skipped over (like Richard and Berengaria's wedding night). Fortunately the scenes are fairly short and lend themselves well to skimming if you'd rather get back to the battles. And the female characters themselves are interesting, especially Joanna.

This book is worth reading if you've been following the Plantagenets from the beginning, or if you're interested in just Richard and the Crusades. (The prologue summarizes the events of the previous couple of books, so if you haven't read Penman's other books you will still receive sufficient context to bring you up to speed.) ( )
  rabbitprincess | Nov 17, 2013 |
Lionheart is the fourth of Sharon Penman’s books focusing on the Angevins: Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine and their ambitious children. Henry II is now dead and Richard is king, but he has scarcely consolidated his rule before he decides to take the cross and embark on the Third Crusade against Saladin. That crusade, and Richard’s other adventures in the Holy Land, form the heart of this novel.

Although I much enjoyed the earlier books in the series, I found this one rather heavy-going and stilted, and the characterisation (with the key exception of Richard) feels rather underdeveloped. Penman has clearly put a great deal of effort into her research, in order to make the book as accurate as it can be, but the sheer weight of historical detail stifles the story and prevents it from being the exciting, breathless adventure that it could have been. This is especially the case in the Holy Land, where dramatic events are too often reported second-hand rather than allowing the reader to get caught up in the immediacy of the moment.

Nevertheless I enjoyed her appealing portrait of a flawed but charismatic Richard, whose martial glamour draws admiration from his men and envious contempt from his rivals – one of whom, unfortunately, is Philippe of France, Richard’s fellow commander in the Crusade. The novel also does a good job of emphasising the debilitating tensions within the Christian forces – whether that’s between Richard and Philippe, or between the would-be kings of Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan and Conrad of Montferrat. As I've said, the novel simply didn’t have enough verve and energy to capture my imagination, but I’m aware that many other people have enjoyed it immensely.

You can read my full review on my blog here:
http://theidlewoman.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/lionheart-sharon-penman.html ( )
1 vote Leander2010 | Nov 17, 2013 |
I admit to being mildly disappointed in this. I was a massive fan of Sharon Penman's Welsh trilogy, but the last few have been a bit patchy. I know it is impossible to write historical fiction and not know what the ending will be - we all do. But this seemed to be written from a more obvious posiiton of foreknowledge than usual. Too often a chapter would end with a short section "and chroniclers wrote..." Occasionally it works as a tool, to reinforce that this is a momumentous evemt, but it felt like this was happening too often. I also found the continual battles to be a bit wearing. OK, so Richard and the third Cruade is going to be a bit battle heavy, but it go a bit repetitive and, if I'm honest, a little stereotypically cardboard cut out. To sumarise, French bad; Saladin honourable but going to hell anyway; Richard - well the sun may as well shine out of his arse from this account. He's not maybe as bad a king as reputation may have made him, but this felt a bit too much like trying to repaint his reputation in a single volume - and it therefore felt unbalanced and biased.
As usual, I like the interplay of charcters and the addition of a few minor characters close to the main protagonists to advance the story and provide some colour. But the whole was somewhat unsatisfactory. ( )
  Helenliz | Oct 27, 2013 |
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Theirs was a story that would rival the legend of King Arthur and Guinevere, his faithless queen.
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They were called "The Devil's Brood," though never to their faces. They were the four surviving sons of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine. With two such extraordinary parents, much was expected of them.

But the eldest-charming yet mercurial-would turn on his father and, like his brother Geoffrey, meet an early death. When Henry died, Richard would take the throne and, almost immediately, set off for the Holy Land. This was the Third Crusade, and it would be characterized by internecine warfare among the Christians and extraordinary campaigns against the Saracens. And, back in England, by the conniving of Richard's youngest brother, John, to steal his crown.

In Lionheart, Sharon Kay Penman displays her remarkable mastery of historical detail and her acute understanding of human foibles. The result is a powerful story of intrigue, war, and- surprisingly-effective diplomacy, played out against the roiling conflicts of love and loyalty, passion and treachery, all set against the rich textures of the Holy Land.
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Richard, the second surviving son of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine, inherits the throne from his brother, before embarking on the Third Crusade, a conflict that is complicated by the schemes of his usurping brother, John.

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