Friday 4 October 2019

A King's Ransom by Sharon Kay Penman

A Good Read Revisited

A King's Ransom

"I doubt that Ms Penman could tell a boring story to save her life!"



Biographical / Saga / Richard the Lionheart
13th Century
England / France

One of the things I love so much about Penman’s books is that they aren't over in a day. I feel cheated when I read a good book and get through it in twenty-four hours. No worry of that with hers, as this one came in around 700 pages. Love that!

This novel focuses on the last few years of Richard the Lionheart’s life. It picks up right where the previous novel, Lionheart, left off. Richard is in captivity, where he remained for over a year. He had to do a political balancing act with his captors, buying time for his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, to raise the astronomical ransom fee demanded by Heinrich. Eleanor herself also had to play politics to get her son out, raise the ransom, retain his duchy and kingdom, and somehow manage to maintain her composure and hope throughout. It is wonderful to see, too, how fiercely loyal his men were to him. It goes to show the depth of love they had for their king and commander and adds that much more complexity to the Lionheart’s already rich and vivid life.

I was gutted by Richard's death, even though I knew when and how it was coming. I got all attached - again - and then it made me cry. And made me angry, honestly, because really, what on earth possessed him to go out into a battlefield without all his protective gear? And to be shot in the armpit by a crazy peasant who was using a frying pan as a shield? He was always depicted as reckless in battle, always at the front of every charge, right in the thick of it with his men. That is admirable and respectable. But the day he received his fatal injury, he wasn’t just reckless. He was stupid. And that’s really tough to swallow regarding a man who could have had a long and glorious reign otherwise.

As always, Penman’s research is impeccable. Her portrayal of the characters involved, her skill in weaving together multiple points of view, and her deep knowledge of medieval European history is put to excellent use in this lovely, poignant novel. I am always amazed at how much history she works into her books without weighing them down or becoming dry. Pedantry must be hard to avoid with historical fiction, and many authors can’t manage it, but Penman always does. She teaches her readers as she tells us a story, and it is her obvious love of her topic that keeps her tomes from becoming pedantic or boring. I doubt that Ms Penman could tell a boring story to save her life!

I simply can't recommend Penman’s books highly enough.

© Kristen McQuinn

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  1. There aren't many to compete with Sharon Penman. A queen of the genre.

  2. Couldn't agree more. One of the most talented masters of our day.


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