Sharon Kay Penman’s HERE BE DRAGONS

Readers of historical novels frequently complain about the large cast of characters that are typical of these novels, and how hard it is to remember everyone’s name. Yet Sharon Kay Penman manages to make her characters memorable. She does it with a masterful use of point of view. In Here Be Dragons, her fictionalized biography of Llewelyn the Great (c.1173-1240), Ms Penman allows the reader to spend a summer’s day with ten-year-old Llewelyn in Chapter One (it is July, 1183). We do not meet the second protagonist, John, Count of Mortain (1167-1216) until Chapter Three, and then it is through the terrified eyes of a teenaged serving wench who has just been told she has to spend the night with him. In Chapter Seven we meet the third protagonist, five-year-old Joanna, who is living in modest circumstances with her mother in Yorkshire. Ms. Penman deftly weaves the strands of her narrative together so that we gradually learn that Joanna is the bastard daughter of the Count of Mortain. Upon Mortain’s accession to the throne of England in 1199, as King John, Joanna’s status rises. In 1206, at the age of fourteen, she is married off to Prince Llewelyn, the ten-year-old boy we met in Chapter One, now a seasoned fighter aged thirty-three. Ms. Penman uses these plot strands to explore the complex, torturous relationship between King John of England and Prince Llewelyn of Wales.  Five stars. A bookclub recommendation.

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