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Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman

Here Be Dragons (1985)

by Sharon Kay Penman

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1,943483,509 (4.34)159
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This is a favorite book--one I read years (decades?) ago yet still remember lines and scenes from. One of those rare books that have moved me to tears. I've read a lot of Sharon Kay Penman's books--I'm currently reading her latest release and then will have no more of her to read until "Prince of Darkness" comes out. This one and "Sunne in Splendor" are by far my two favorites, the two I'd rate a full five stars. Not only engrossing, solidly ground historical fiction but one of the best love stories I've ever read. I'm not saying this is deathless literature--there are aspects of Penman's style I find clunky (point of view, dialogue tags, etc) But that doesn't stop me from flat-out loving this book. ( )
1 vote LisaMaria_C | Apr 21, 2016 |
This first instalment in Penman’s England/Wales trilogy paints a magnificent portrait of the personalities and politics at the heart of the 13th century conflict between England and Wales. Penman’s richly drawn characters come right from the pages of history and she completely pulls you into their world. This book does not disappoint. ( )
1 vote Melissa_J | Jan 16, 2016 |
It seems I am forever qualifying my reviews. Well a qualifier here, or perhaps two: 1–it took me nearly 2 months to finish this puppy (and I thought about abandoning it several times, but then I’d read a chapter and get sucked back in), and 2–I have a serious level of jealousy toward Penman and her success (she too was a lawyer (tax, of all horrible things!)–and now, lucky girl, she never has to be again!).

Shannon Penman is a terrific writer. Read a chapter, just one, close your eyes and take the tiniest effort and you will be able to vividly imagine that you are there. Being able to paint so well with words though has its drawbacks–neither she nor her editor could imagine cutting much of the over 700 page beast that is Here Be Dragons. The first significant chunk of the book, maybe up to 1/4 or even 1/3 of the book takes place before the two main characters meet. The book is supposed to be about the love story between Bad King John’s bastard daughter Joanna and Llewelyn the Great of Wales. And it is a lovely story, and it doesn’t cheat you on the love story between them, the angst and agony of Joanna’s love being split between her father and husband. But it does go on and on and on and on.

I think part of the reason why I kept putting it down was utter frustration with Joanna–she was so utterly undeserving of Llewelyn. While he wasn’t a perfect husband, he was certainly far more understanding of her fits, childishness, and the million times she stabbed him in the back to try and do right by her father. I think she was in a complicated position but she was one of those horribly misguided souls who forever seemed to be making wrong decisions out of selflessness for her love of those around her, but when you really step back and look at it, she was ridiculously selfish. Had the book been half its size, I might not have been so disenchanted with her by the end.

Speaking of the end, I felt a bit on the cheated side. After a seemingly almost impossible reconciliation between the two — it skips a few years, and then they die. I wanted to reach into the book and shake someone.

Despite the great talent Penman has, I doubt I will read anything else by her. At least not until I’m in retirement and have all the time in the world to read books that, while good, do go on, and on, and on. ( )
  mullgirl | Jun 8, 2015 |
reread in 2014 ( )
  VictoriaJZ | Sep 25, 2014 |
Where I got the book: purchased used on Amazon.

This is the first book I’ve read by Sharon Kay Penman, and it was a product of the Goodreads Effect—I’ve heard so many good things about Penman on Goodreads that I realized I was going to have to get acquainted with her work. This, I believe, was the second book she wrote, after The Sunne in Splendor, and the first book in her Welsh Trilogy. It covers the years from 1183 to 1234 and tells the story of Llewelyn, a Welsh prince determined to keep Wales Welsh by keeping the English (well, Norman French really) King John out of his country, and his wife Joanna, who was John’s illegitimate daughter.

Given its subject matter, it won’t surprise you to learn that the movement of the novel is chronological rather than thematic; it’s basically a straight telling of what happened during the period, primarily from the point of view of either Llewelyn or Joanna (but see below). If you’re the kind of reader who reads historical fiction to learn history, you will learn a great deal about the period, about Wales and about the personalities involved, and since I’m not a historian I can’t tell you whether it’s accurate or not.

Penman writes well, puts words into the characters’ mouths that don’t generally sound either too modern or too deliberately olde-worlde, and covers, as far as I can see, a great deal of the known history of the time. I can’t fault her on any of those points.

And yet…I wasn’t overly impressed. I read this book a few pages at a time over a very long period, which admittedly isn’t probably the best way to do it, but at no point did the story grab me enough that I wanted to bring this book with me wherever I went. I even tried starting it over after the first 50 pages or so, because I’d let a long time lapse, and then after that I kept doggedly perservering, determined to give Penman a fair try.

I should admit, though, that Welsh settings have never appealed to me much, and I had trouble dealing with so many names, character or place, with L or G or W in them. I kept trying to pronounce the names in my head, and since I haven’t spent much time in Wales this was a frustrating bit of OCD that hounded me constantly as I read. But maybe that’s just me.

I spent much of the 700 pages of this book wondering why I simply couldn’t work up any feeling for any of the characters, and it was only toward the end of the book that the answer began to dawn on me. I had a problem with the narrative voice. Penman writes in the third person omniscient point of view which, admittedly, is probably the best choice for a novel involving a great many characters and a large chunk of history—she is able to show us the inside of the heads of any character she wishes at any point in time. I have nothing against the omniscient POV when it’s done well, but I don’t think that Penman had really mastered it in this book. We are very often deep in Llewelyn or Joanna’s head, and I found it disconcerting to suddenly hop into the head of a minor character, as quite frequently happened. It’s like holding a telescopic device when someone else is playing around with the zoom, so that one second you’re looking at things from miles away, the next second you’re right up close, and then WHAM, back to miles away again. To make things worse, every so often she resorted to historian mode to get over long periods of time in which not much happened, or at least not much happened that she intended to show in the book. So suddenly we weren’t in any character’s head—we were listening to a disembodied storyteller.

And that, I figured, is why I couldn’t get to like any of the characters—the narrative technique made them all seem a bit like a cast of marionettes, not acting under their own free will but at the mercy of the narrated Historical Imperative. And that’s a shame because there was a lot of family drama that also, because of who that family happened to be, was historically important. The abiding impression of what I did like turns out to be King John, who doesn’t appear often enough for my liking but casts an awfully long shadow over Joanna and Llewelyn’s lives. I grew up with an impression of King John taken from the Robin Hood stories, and am glad to have received a more nuanced picture of this much-maligned monarch.

All this makes it very hard to rate this book, but I’m going for three stars because of the sheer struggle I had to stay engaged with the story. Which doesn’t mean I’m giving up on Penman—I have another of her books somewhere in the TBR pile, and I’ll admit that if I want to learn something about a period via historical fiction, she seems like a good author to go to. ( )
1 vote JaneSteen | Aug 26, 2014 |
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Prologue: Theirs was a land of awesome grandeur, a land of mountains and moorlands and cherished myths.
Book One: Chapter 1: Shropshire, England, July 1183: He was ten years old and an alien in an unfriendly land, made an unwilling exile by his mother's marriage to a Marcher border lord.
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Book description
Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England’s ruthless, power-hungry King John. Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce by marrying the English king’s beloved illegitimate daughter, Joanna, who slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband. But as John’s attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales---and Llewelyn---Joanna must decide where her love and loyalties truly lie.

The turbulent clashes of two disparate worlds and the destinies of the individuals caught between them spring to life in this magnificent novel of power and passion, loyalty and lies. The book that began the trilogy that includes Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning, Here Be Dragons brings thirteenth-century England, France, and Wales to tangled, tempestuous life.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345382846, Paperback)

"A masterful picture of Wales in the 13th century...vivdly pictured as grandly beautiful, its people volatile, stubborn and mystic."
Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England's ruthless, power-hungry King John. Then Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce with England by marrying the English king's beloved, illegitimate daughter, Joanna. Reluctant to wed her father's bitter enemy, Joanna slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband who dreams of uniting Wales. But as John's attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales--and Llewelyn--Joanna must decide to which of these powerful men she owes her loyalty and love.
A sweeping novel of power and passion, loyalty and lives, this is the book that began the trilogy that includes FALLS THE SHADOW and THE RECKONING.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:07 -0400)

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A thirteenth-century Welsh prince called Llewelyn the Great tries to wrest his country from England. Standing in his way is King John who marries his daughter to Llewelyn in hopes of taming the rebellious prince.

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Sharon Kay Penman is a LibraryThing Author, an author who lists their personal library on LibraryThing.

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Sharon Kay Penman chatted with LibraryThing members from Aug 10, 2009 to Aug 21, 2009. Read the chat.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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