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Falls the Shadow (1988)

by Sharon Kay Penman

Series: Welsh Trilogy (2)

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1,4042710,145 (4.36)86
From the international bestselling author of The Sunne in Splendour and Lionheart This novel about the struggle for power in England in the Middle Ages centres on the life of Simon de Montfort, a French nobleman who came to England to lay claim to an earldom, married the King's sister, and eventually mounted a civil war against Henry III.… (more)

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In her author’s note to this book, Sharon Kay Penman explains that her plan to follow up Here Be Dragons was to cover the lives of both Simon de Montfort and Llywelyn the Last. But Simon’s story proved to be much larger than half a book would allow, so Penman wisely ceded the stage to him for this second book.

Simon, born in France, married to the English king’s sister, proves to be the staunchest believer in an English king’s obligations to his people. Unfortunately, Henry III was the sort of person who really shouldn’t have been king: petulant, easily led by whichever follower he spoke to last, and definitely not a battlefield champion. Simon seems to fit the mould of kingship more, with his charisma, decisive battle tactics, and concern for the welfare of more citizens than earlier kings had considered. But his promotion of the Oxford Provisions smacks of treason to Henry…

I liked this even more than Here Be Dragons, probably because there weren’t any awkward sex scenes between people with large age differences (like Llywelyn Fawr and Joanna in the first book). I enjoyed reading about the dynamics of the de Montfort family and their various exploits, as well as the struggles Simon faced in attempting to get people on board with the Oxford Provisions.

In my head I was comparing this with Edith Pargeter’s Brothers of Gwynedd quartet—those books don’t go into quite as much detail but move a bit more quickly, from what I recall. They would complement each other nicely.

Side note: I was reading this when the news broke that Sharon Kay Penman had died, and the title seemed fitting. A shadow had fallen over the world of historical fiction with her passing. But what a rich legacy she has left. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Feb 24, 2021 |
Book Version: St. Martin's Press, 2008, PB, 580 pages
Part of a Series: Welsh princes, #2
Language Difficulty Level: Contains less common (terms of) items, tools or actions in medieval society
Reading Difficulty level: Easy to follow, not too technical
Character Depth: High
Historical Accuracy (if applicable): Less poetic version can be read on Wikipedia
Illustrations: Minimal - maps and family trees at start of the book
Amount of POV: No strict structure, minimal but multiple
Type of POV: Third person, occasional narrator commentary
CAWPILE Score: 9.14/10
ESRB would rate it: Mature 17+ - Contains violence, blood and gore and/or strong language

Although this book is part of a series called “Welsh Princes”, there is not much focus on them for the majority of the story. This book, I feel, could be split into 2 distinct parts – 1st one with young Simon, that focuses mostly about wrapping up the story of Llywelyn Fawr, his family, succession of Davydd and later Llywelyn the Last. Second and larger part deals almost entirely around Simon de Montfort, his wife, his sons and his struggle with the English Crown and reforms that were attempted all too early by a few centuries.

Anyone who knows even a tiny bit about these turbulent times will come to this book knowing that there was no happy ending to be had for any party involved. Simply put, this book is tragic – friendships broken, families torn asunder, betrayals, scheming and a lot of deaths. When someone of Sharon’s caliber comes writing about it, you will be transported to this era, you will fall in love with all the characters she managed to bring to life…, and you will feel for their plights and wish history could be changed. I should have hated a lot of the characters in this book…but I could not. They were all so vivid and multi-dimensional that all their actions had logic behind them - all of them were reactions to events that happened in the book (and as such in history).

Speaking of historicity of the text – Sharon has a very strict adherence to historical fact and is very responsible with handling such information. Due to the age of the written text, some of it may be disproved/expanded in recent research and thus not be reflected in the book. Even so, she does toy with the events somewhat (e.g. moving a conclave by 2 days for better flow of story) and tends to add characters that did not exist for another point of view on the main players of her stories. Each time it happens, she informs of such tampering in her author’s notes and I am glad for it, because it’s written in so well I never found it jarring or out of place. The minimal scale of it and the fact she is very transparent about it makes her stories one of the most historically accurate I have read so far, minus actual historical essays.

Thus to my last point – a few people criticize Sharon for her strict adherence to history and fact. I think this book suffers most from it. There was a lot of back and forth politicking, machinations and agreements here and there. It was rather late in the story when events started unfolding into an open conflict. As such, the book is extremely slow burn in the middle section. Another issue that underlined this problem was the very character of Simon de Montfort. It was very difficult to relate to a character who was so certain in what he was doing to a point of obstinacy. The characters around him were all vivid and colorful, but he was just…grey. The book picked up sharply for its last stretch though, including the ever-serious Simon, and the finale was heartbreaking.

Definitely recommend it if you are interested in this tumultuous era in English history. ( )
  Deceptikitty | Aug 4, 2020 |
Read almost 300 pages before tossing.
  Siubhan | Feb 28, 2018 |
Summary: A historical fiction account of the tense relationship and eventual conflict between incompetent Henry III (and his son Edward I) and Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and husband of Henry's sister, as well as the struggle of Llewellyn, eventual Prince of Wales and grandson of Llewellyn the Great to hold and unite Wales against the English.

In recent years I've discovered the historical fiction of Sharon Kay Penman (I reviewed [https://bobonbooks.com/2015/07/17/review-here-be-dragons/] Here Be Dragons, the first volume of this series on Llewellyn the Great in July 2015) and have loved her introduction to the world of the thirteenth century and the conflicts between England and Wales. This is definitely "backlist" and you probably can find inexpensive used copies of the whole series, which I would definitely recommend.

This volume is actually focused less on Welsh princes than on Simon de Montfort and the increasing tensions between him and his brother-in-law, King Henry III that eventually led to all-out war. Penman in an Author's Note, informs us that she originally had planned to split focus between Llewellyn and Simon but found she could not do justice to both in the same book and so devoted this one to Simon.

Who was this Simon and why did he pose such a threat to Henry? Born in France, he accompanied his father in battle as a boy and learned courage, the leadership of others, and strategic thinking. An ambitious young man, he seeks to claim the family lands in England and persuades the Earl of Chester, a childless old man to yield them to him. He persuades Eleanor (Nell), sister of Henry to marry him, forsaking a vow of chastity she'd sworn after the death of her first husband. He effectively served the king in suppressing unrest in Gascony, only to be called to account by the King who listened more to the rebels than to him, sowing seeds of discord.

Meanwhile, his sons Bran and Harry, and Henry's son Edward become fast friends and hell-raisers. Henry, however, in contrast to Simon, is ineffective in battle and without sense in his administration, spending lavishly in excess of his means. Eventually, Henry is forced by Parliament, with Simon in the lead to agree to the Provisions of Oxford, which held the king accountable to his people. No king wished his power to be constrained by his subjects and this earned Simon his hatred, and sowed the seeds of war. Edward, deceiving Harry, rallies some of the Barons to the king's cause, Simon suffers numerous setbacks and even flees to France at one point. Eventually he gains a decisive victory over the King, in part due to a battlefield error of Edward, at the Battle of Lewes in 1264. Simon attempts to rule in the King's name implementing the Provisions, but quickly the situation degenerates as Edward escapes, the Barons rally to him, Simon and his son Bran are separated, and Bran decisively defeated by a lightning attack. Although helped by Llewellyn, Simon is undermanned and unaware of what has befallen his son, and is cornered by Edward at the fateful battle of Evesham in 1265.

In the backdrop of this primary narrative, is the uneasy relationship between Llewellyn and his younger brother Davydd over the leadership of Wales. As is the case in so much of royal history, it is the story of marriages between rival houses, and the conflicts of love and loyalty in consequence. Penman also exposes the plight of the Jews in England, hindered from all commerce but money lending, and hated for it, within often fatal consequences. We see the low status of the towns, expected to contribute to the king's coffers, but enjoying no power, that Simon tried to elevate.

Simon de Montfort is remembered today as an early advocate of representative government. This work portrays him as a courageous man of integrity whose very convictions led to the tragedy of his end. He was too good for his King in many ways, earning the King's undying hatred. In the end, men willingly followed him to death and pilgrims claimed healings at his grave. Unlike the religious martyrs under Henry VIII, Simon, portrayed by Penman as a God-fearing man of faith and friend of clergy, was a martyr to the idea that Kings should not be answerable to God alone, but also to those they rule. Penman not only tells a great story but does us a great service in bringing to life the greatness of Simon de Montfort, sixth Earl of Leicester. ( )
  BobonBooks | Jan 8, 2018 |
This is the book about simon de Monfort and Henry III. We do meet Edward I who is shown to be less than heroic but politically very astute. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Sep 19, 2017 |
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Between the idea
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Falls the Shadow

T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men"
To Marion Wood
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They crossed the border into Brittany at noon, soon afterward found themselves in an eerily silent landscape, shrouded in dense, spectral fog.
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From the international bestselling author of The Sunne in Splendour and Lionheart This novel about the struggle for power in England in the Middle Ages centres on the life of Simon de Montfort, a French nobleman who came to England to lay claim to an earldom, married the King's sister, and eventually mounted a civil war against Henry III.

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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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