LIONHEART by Sharon Kay Penman is the story of Richard I during the early years of his reign, form 1189 when he ascended the throne of England to the end of 1192, when he left the Holy Land. In this novel, we see Richard, “the Lionheart” (Coeur de Lion) reckless, brave, brilliant as he battles the Emir of Egypt Salah ad Din (Saladin) for control of Jerusalem. Imagine medieval knights in their iron armor fighting in a desert in temperatures of 40 degrees centigrade (110 degrees Fahrenheit) and you can see why Richard finally gave up and returned home to England. (It didn’t help that his faithless brother John was claiming he was dead, so that he could inherit Richard’s throne.)
Narrator Emily Gray does a wonderful job with the accents of these people, whose first language was NOT English. I especially loved her portrayal of Eleanor of Aquitaine (Richard’s mother) and Richard himself.
This novel was a rich & insightful look at someone who is a hero to British Schoolchildren, a book that humanizes him and brings him vividly alive with all his faults & contradictions. Five stars.