Jessica's Reviews > Here be Dragons

Here be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman
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Jul 19, 11

bookshelves: adventure, good-romance, historical-fiction, new-classic
Read from July 01 to 16, 2011

I originally planned to give this book 4 or 4.5 stars because it took me about three weeks to finish (a very long time for me), and I thought that Penman could have slimmed down a few parts. After sitting on it for a couple days, though, I decided to give it 5 stars simply due to the ambitious nature and flawless execution of the novel. Certainly one of the best historical fiction novels I have ever read, this book spans about 35 years in 700 pages. While the narrative follows many different characters, it mainly revolves around Llewellyn, Prince of Gwynedd/conqueror of much of Wales, King John of England, and John's daughter, Joanna, who eventually marries Llewellyn. The history in this novel is impeccably fleshed out with realistic detail and dialogue, and the reader really comes to understand each and every character - for good or for bad.

Penman recreates King John's character in history without glossing over any of his flaws or shortcomings. She does not omit any of the gory details of his deeds - starving a woman to death, hanging children - but she makes the reader see that he has his softer side as well. It is easy to empathize with Joanna as she tries to reconcile her love for her father and the man that is John.

My main qualm is that toward the end of Part I and throughout Part II, Penman strays from her impressive writing to narrate the happenings and battles in dry, stiff prose. I wish that these parts had been omitted because I don't like skimming, yet they added little to my understanding of the novel. It was relayed so that dates and names and battles were all jumbled in my head. The rest of the book, however, did a wonderful job of explaining complex Welsh and Norman lineage in a way that made it easy for the reader to remember who was who.

I am looking forward to reading the next book in this series, but I think I will wait a little while. As exhaustive as Dragons was in scope, it was also taxing on the reader.
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