Lionheart by Sharon Penman

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Lionheart by Sharon Penman

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: A detailed, historical narrative that covers the life of Richard I from his coronation to the end of the Third Crusade.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 600 Date: January 2013
Publisher: Pan
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1447205364

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Lionheart is the latest book in the Devil’s Brood series, which focuses on the dysfunctional Angevin branch of the Plantaganets. As the title suggests, the story is a richly detailed account of the life of Richard I, covering the period from his coronation up to the end of the third crusade.

Penman has done a remarkable job in separating the myth from the man. Most of us have preconceived ideas about Richard, mentally picturing him as a gung-ho crusader with little time for England, or as the returning hero who appears at the end of the Robin Hood legend to put everything right. Thankfully, Penman concentrates on fact rather than the fable and presents a convincing and human picture of Richard, culminating from fastidious research of eyewitness accounts and historical documents. Her attention to detail is extraordinary, adding weight and authenticity to the narrative.

Lionheart is a book of two halves, and as I read it, I was unsure of who Penman perceives her target audience to be. The first half is largely written from a female point of view as it focuses on the story of Joanna, the widowed queen of Sicily, who is Richard’s beloved younger sister. Joanna is kind, wise and maternal, joining Richard on his crusade as a 'duenna' for Richard’s new bride, Berengaria. These two women strike up a close friendship as Joanna becomes a guide and confidante to the inexperienced teenager. In the second half of the book, the pace changes dramatically, as the crusaders finally reach Outremer and begin their campaign. This section of the book describes in detail the skirmishes and battles of the crusades and is written from a more masculine perspective, with Richard firmly placed on centre stage.

Interestingly, Richard’s biggest problems seemed to come from within his home camp, rather than from the Saracens, with whom he formed quite a good relationship. His biggest enemies were Philippe, the king of France and his fellow crusaders; Hugh, the Duke of Burgundy and Philip, the Bishop of Beauvais. The frequent verbal confrontations between these men make for entertaining reading, with plenty of colourful insults from both sides as the simmering tension escalates to boiling point. These heated arguments were undoubtedly my favourite parts of the book, as I relished the barbed wit and sardonic humour.

Another aspect of the story that I found interesting was the rather twisted moral code of the 'Christian' crusaders. Many of these men viewed the 'taking of the cross' as a kind of free pass into heaven and so thought nothing of indulging in sessions of drinking and whoring during their campaign. It seems that the men of the church were just as immoral, reasoning that if they died during the crusade they would automatically be absolved of their sins.

It seems that Richard himself was a kind of celebrity. He was certainly esteemed by his men and crowds would follow him wherever he went. He loved to make an entrance and was a real showman. It does appear that he did have an uncanny knack for the theatrical, miraculously appearing just in the nick of time to save his bride and sister from the wicked Cypriot king, Isaac Comnenus. Another scene sees Richard riding alone to the Saracen front line, pacing up and along the ranks and raising a challenge, which none were brave enough to accept. These scenes would be hard to believe if they did not have such strong historical evidence proving that they did, indeed occur.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lionheart and found that Penman’s descriptive writing style made it easy for me to understand the complex political events taking place. My only slight criticism is that she can get repetitious with certain words and phrases during the story, 'gotten' and 'mayhap' being the main offenders.

In creating a book so rich in detail, Penman had to stop the account at the end of the third crusade. A sequel, King’s Ransom, will deal with the second half of Richard’s life.

The book is no lightweight read at 600 pages long, but it rewards the reader with a remarkable insight into the life of this misunderstood king. With many of my preconceptions about Richard changed, I look forward to the sequel.

For an alternative account of the Third Crusade, try Crusade by Elizabeth Laird

Buy Lionheart by Sharon Penman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Lionheart by Sharon Penman at

Buy Lionheart by Sharon Penman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Lionheart by Sharon Penman at


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