Gisela Kretzschmar's Reviews > The Sunne in Splendour

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman
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Apr 08, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: all-time-favourites
Recommended for: just any lover of historical fiction.
Read in April, 2009 , read count: 1

From the very first pages into this book, I found myself liking the young Richard, and I wondered, "How in the heck can this be the same boy who will grow up to murder his own nephews?" A fiercely loyal and earnest lad, he is the youngest of his family, small, dark and intense and very different from his three tall and fair brothers. He is Richard Plantagenet, who, as King Richard III, will go down in history as the epitome of evil, a murderous usurper.

Murderer he wasn't, claims Sharon Penman. Believable and compelling, the story of the four sons of Richard, Duke of York unfolds with all the relentlessness and inescapability of a Greek tragedy.

Although far from being the monster More and Shakespeare described, Richard is shown partly responsible for his nephews' fate. In Penman’s version he does not order their killing, but he fails to realize that by his taking the throne the children become pawns in other people's power games and pay for his thoughtlessness with their lives. Sharon Penman's explanation of the princes' disappearance and Richard's strange silence is as good and plausible as others. Her Richard is brave and loyal, but he can also be aloof and stubborn to the point of inflexibility. He can display subtle irony, but also biting wit, and is capable of considerable aggression, yet lacks the ultimate ruthlessness to secure his power. Reflecting upon his decision makes him admit his guilt - that he yielded to the temptation the Crown of England represented - and for the last months of his life he does feel bitter remorse.

Richard was born on the brink of the Modern Age and grew up in a world that witnessed the death throes of the medieval system of values, and yet, at a time when all conventional notions of loyalty and feudal allegiance had become a sham, he cherished a core of chivalrous conduct that is very appealing, apparent for example in his just administration of the North and his legislation as King - supporting the weak as demanded by the knightly code of conduct. Richard's physical courage, praised even by his detractors, originates in his chivalrous ideals, and his last ferocious charge down Ambion Hill to challenge Henry Tudor to single combat evokes heroic tales of earlier centuries.

"The Sunne in Splendour" is a magnificent book. Intimate family scenes alternate with bloody battles, scenarios of betrayal and murder are followed by tender love scenes. We meet a host of unforgettable characters – lovable Edmund, the first of the four Plantagenet princes to die; proud foolish Warwick and his tragic brother John Neville; the icily beautiful Elizabeth Woodville, Edward's queen; Bishop Morton, the snake in the grass; sweet-natured Elizabeth of York and Richard's dignified mother Cecily. All of them are complex, and stay with the reader for a long time.

Richard III died at thirty-two, his reign cut short by rebellion and treason. Sharon Penman brings him gloriously back to life. The great achievement of this book is to show that there was nobility in Richard's cause as well as in his failure.
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04/22 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Marie (new) - added it

Marie I can't wait to hear your review, this has been on my to be read list for a long time.


Gisela Kretzschmar You'd better put it right on top of your list :) I've about 250 more pages to read, but I guess it's gonna be one of my all-time-favourites.


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