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Here be Dragons (Welsh Princes #1)

4.3  ·  Rating Details ·  17,141 Ratings  ·  1,130 Reviews
Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England's ruthless, power-hungry King John. Then Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce with England by marrying the English king's beloved, illegitimate daughter, Joanna. Reluctant to wed her father's bitter enemy, Joanna slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband who dr ...more
Paperback, 704 pages
Published May 11th 1993 by Ballantine Books (first published 1985)
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AJ It is incredibly accurate with regard to characters and events they were a part of, precipitated, and were involved in, impressively so.

Community Reviews

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I used to have a rule: You will read at least fifty pages before you decide to quit a book.

Then a few years ago, I vowed to completely finish every book I start. The unintended consequence of this stricter policy is that my “currently-reading” shelf exploded. I am up to thirteen books – most of which I lost interest in a few months (or even a year) ago, but feel pressure to pick back up. Honestly, looking at that shelf fills me with dread.

Just when I was considering reverting to my fifty-pages
Most medieval fiction, other than Follet's PILLARS OF THE EARTH, fell short of my expectations so I never went out of my way to read much in the genre. But then, a few different people recommended Penman, I tried her out and she's now on my list of authors worthy of reading!
Here are some good reasons to read Penman:

(1) EVOCATIVE IMAGERY: the words flow with apparent ease, opening the reader's mind to a new world; you can see this mentioned in some of the more popular reviews below;

Apr 11, 2008 Lucy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I love to read other people's favorite books. Amy M. recommended this to me, although I don't think she described it as her favorite. Just a book she had read a long time ago that she remembered loving. Having never even heard of it before, I pulled out my super reading powers and gave it a whirl.

First, this is NOT an easy read. The edition I checked out contained more than 700 thin pages of small print. Second, it's historical fiction about a time in history I had no prior knowledge of - 13th c
[...loading unpopular opinion...]

I didn't like this book.

I didn't like the author's writing style, treatment of the period, or copious infodumps that were awkwardly wedged into the prose (which was pedestrian at best). Despite the piles of glowing reviews for SKP's medieval books, I kept my expectations low -- but alas. Here Be Dragons plunged through such tissue-weight optimism like a brick through toilet paper. I really did try, guys. I hoped it would improve, or at least hook my attention.

Jan 03, 2009 Kristin rated it it was amazing
How refreshing it was to read this book after the dreadful The Virgin's Lover. Here is well-written, wonderful, historical fiction at it's best!! Sharon Kay Penman is a fantastic author and she took me to a time and place that I haven't read much about...13th Century Wales.

The book tells the story of Llewelyn, the Prince of North Wales, and his rise to power and fame as Llewelyn the Great and his great love, Joanna, the illegitimate daughter of King John. In the quest for Wales Llewelyn and King
Apr 21, 2012 Jane rated it liked it
Where I got the book: purchased used on Amazon.

This is the first book I’ve read by Sharon Kay Penman, and it was a product of the Goodreads Effect—I’ve heard so many good things about Penman on Goodreads that I realized I was going to have to get acquainted with her work. This, I believe, was the second book she wrote, after The Sunne in Splendor, and the first book in her Welsh Trilogy. It covers the years from 1183 to 1234 and tells the story of Llewelyn, a Welsh prince determined to keep Wale
Krista Baetiong Tungol
Gratifying. There was never a moment in this book when I felt bored getting lectured on the history of 13th century Wales and a great Welsh prince named Llewelyn. Miss Penman has vividly captured the action, gore, romance, intrigue and whatnot of this medieval period...and what more can I say? I’m entranced.
Mandy Moody
I can't say enough good things about this book.
Sharon Kay Penman is absolutely amazing. The characters in Here be Dragons live and breath like I would never have thought possible for people that died almost 800 years ago. Almost all of the major characters are factually based, and Penman says that she also cast her secondary characters from real-life molds. Maintaining historical accuracy in how these people thought, spoke and lived makes their vivid reality even more amazing. There are dozens o
Rio (Lynne)
Dec 10, 2011 Rio (Lynne) rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was so packed with years of information where do I begin with a review?
First all of I was excited when the book came in the mail and it was a version I had not seen. I loved the cover and the fact that it was the imported paperback. I know this has nothing to do with the writing, but I'm a sucker for a nice cover.
When you read this book, you need a quiet corner with no distractions. You need to be able to emerge yourself into Penman's saga to enjoy it to it's fullest. The main chara
I really liked this. Penman is a meticulous researcher, but in some of her other books, I’ve thought she’s been too fact-heavy at the expense of great storytelling. For me, she got the balance right in this book, it’s an equally entertaining and informative read.

I read a lot of English history books, whereas this is my first foray into Welsh history. Perhaps that's why I preferred the goings-on in King John’s court to that in Llewelyn the Great’s - I was more familiar with the people and events
Sep 16, 2013 Tania rated it really liked it
There was one aspect of successful kingship, however, that John had always utterly lacked - luck.

4.5 stars. Many people has recommended that I try a Sharon Kay Penman, but I felt a bit intimidated for two reason - firstly by the size of the books and secondly I was worried it may be too highbrow for my taste. But I'm happy to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. I learned so much about thirteenth-century England and Wales, but it never felt forced. The characters were all fully developed, and even at th
Mar 22, 2010 Elizabeth rated it did not like it
OMG. I LOVE historical fiction. I LOVE this period. But I cannot for the life of me get into this book! And that's disappointing b/c this author wrote many and I was hopeful of having lots of nice, long books to read. It's hard for me to put my finger on what I don't like -- basically, as soon as one gets interested in a character or a situation, the scene shifts dramatically. There are too many characters and too much going on.

And YES, it's history, and there WERE a lot of characters and a lot
Jan 01, 2009 Barbara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Let's just say I lost sleep to keep reading this page-turner of a historical novel. Set in England, Wales, and France, and starring the aristocracy and royal families of the late 1100's and early 1200's. The main story line surrounds Joanna, a daughter of John I of England. Most of us remember him as Robin Hood's nemesis... Robin supported John's brother Richard Lionheart. But old Robin's not in this tale. It's told from a wholly different viewpoint.

A co-worker recommended this author. So far, I
Anneliese Bennion
Nov 14, 2007 Anneliese Bennion added it
Recommends it for: historical fiction fans
It has taken me a month to read all 700 pages. I haven't taken that long to read a book since The Lord of the Rings trilogy. At first I wasn't really impressed with it. It wasn't getting to the romance quick enough for me and it was a little confusing to remember all of the characters. It also was a little disturbing to have older men marrying very young women. Most of them were still girls. Eventually, I wrapped my mind around it. My friend Jill told me the romance between Llewelyn and Joanna w ...more
Deborah Pickstone
I loved this book about one of my historical heroes (Llewellyn Fawr) when I first read it but on this re-read I was much irritated by the writing forsoothly, by the repetition of all the worst gossip about John and by the manifest acceptance of Richard I as a homosexual when there is no actual evidence that this was so (nor did the concept of sexual orientation exist in the Medieval world). I acknowledge that Ms Penman makes this point herself in her two later novels about Richard I (and damn fi ...more
Lady of the Lake
Jul 16, 2008 Lady of the Lake rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite books ...I don't believe the story she has fabricated within the web of historical figures and happenings but I loved d it none the less. This brought joy toe but it also had me crying my eyes out. I fell in love with the characters most had lived a life similar to what goes on here but much it far from the truth I am certain. I was so sorry to reach the last page. This was the first book in the trilogy and the best of the 3 IMHO. It was the great love she was able to ...more
A wonderful book, Here Be Dragons is definitely one of my favourite novels ever.

I very rarely cry reading books but the tears were definitely there for this one ...and I have read the book multiple times before.

Sharon Penman brings the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to life and her characterisations seem so plausible. If you like historical fiction then I highly recommend this book. It is a modern classic.
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
I have a bit of a dilemma with this book. It's not the first historical fiction novel I've read that deals with "real" people - historical figures, that is. But it is the first I've read to this scale, and it left me a bit ... perplexed. It's set in 12th and 13th century Wales and England, and is the story of a Welsh prince, Llewelyn, who from the age of fourteen fought to reclaim his father's domain and then, throughout the rest of his life, unite the Welsh princes - a united Wales, he could se ...more
Apr 04, 2008 Annalisa rated it really liked it
Recommended to Annalisa by: Amy
Although it took me 3 weeks to read this novel, I actually really enjoyed it. Unlike other historical fiction that seemed more fantasy that truth, I had a hard time pulling apart what was fiction and what was fact translated into dialogue. I believed these characters, that Penman selected personalities that were the obvious choice and the scenes could have very easily taken place.

Despite a time period anchored and defined by war, Penman does a good job of giving you a few snippets of exciting w
Aug 10, 2009 Zoe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: macmillan
This is hands down my favorite book. Ever.

It is multi-layered. On the one hand it's about the power struggle between England and Wales in the 1200s. On the other hand it's about the relationship between Joanna (illegitimate daughter of King John) and Llewelyn (prince of Wales).

I have never read a book with better characterization. The people are real and complex. There isn't a bad guy, per se, and that adds to the reality. You can always see the situations through everyone's eyes, so you can s
Surprisingly enough, I was able to find this (semi) rare book in my scant city library, and it was completely worth it.

At first, I had a real problem 28 year old men marrying 12/14 year olds, but after I got over it, I became completely engrossed in the book. I love being able to make English connections and this swashbuckling novel is no exception. It features King Richard the Lionheart and his "cowardly" brother King John. The more I read about John Plantagenet, the more I don't like him, des
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
I usually shy away from historical fiction starring real people, finding that such books are often dry--that, or widely derided for inaccuracy. This is one of those rare books that is neither, that is thoroughly researched but never reads like biography; the characters and their inner lives and relationships are fleshed out in a way that would make any novelist proud.

Here Be Dragons spans 51 years of Welsh and English history (from 1183 to 1234), focusing on the lives of three main characters:
I think what I love about Penman’s novels (aside from her obvious talent for sentence structure and superior vocabulary) are the many view points and characters who all have so much depth. One characteristic of Penman’s novels is occasionally (especially in the beginning) telling a chapter from a view point of a minor, almost insignificant character who is then never featured again. That can be a little misleading but I think it also adds to the dimension of the story. In the beginning, I often ...more
Nov 12, 2009 Margaret rated it really liked it
Here Be Dragons is the first in Sharon Kay Penman's Wales trilogy, which follows the ruling families of Wales in the thirteenth century, a turbulent era for the small country on the borders of England, as their princes fought to protect Welsh independence from the encroaching English. Llewelyn ap Iorwerth makes an uneasy truce with King John of England by agreeing to marry John's illegitimate daughter Joanna, who is initially reluctant to marry Llewelyn and go to a land of which she knows nothin ...more
Feb 02, 2010 Andrea rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of my all time favorites. It is the first in Sharon Kay Penman's trilogy of the 12th and 13th century Welsh princes known as Llewelyn The Great and his grandson, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd or Llewelyn The Last who united their people to fight for independence from English rule. Ms. Penman's meticulous historical research and her ability to make the reader feel they are in the room listening to history unfold is just addictive. I have always been an Anglophile, but knew nothing of Welsh his ...more
May 10, 2007 Kathryn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical, 2009
Wow. What a book!
To be honest, this book took me about a month to plod through. The difficult names and interweaving of families made the characters a bit difficult to keep straight, and the 700 paged tiny typed aspect didn't help. That being said, this is truly a beautiful book written about 1300 England and Wales. The book carefully balances historical fact with compelling plot points without tying the book to boring battles or bogging it down in overly graphic romance. The last 200 pages sped
I always have plenty of feelings while reading books but can never seem to think of anything to write for reviews. It wasn't perfect but I really enjoyed it and it got me through a horrendously boring week at work.

I did find it quite difficult to get into at first. It's not an area of history that I know a lot about and it was a lot of information and characters to get my head around. The extent of my knowledge of this period is pretty much from Disney's Robin Hood (so nothing real!) and it was
Lori Anderson
Feb 12, 2009 Lori Anderson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Outlander and historical fiction
As a fan of historical fiction and the "Outlander" series in particular, I had high hopes for this book. The title jumped out at me in the library and I snagged it without really reading the fly leaf.

I loved it. I lost a lot of much-needed sleep reading "just one more chapter" and was entertained and educated at the same time. I had a little trouble with the Welsh (can I please buy a vowel???) and am usually irritated with books where my reading is clumsy because of my inability to pronounce som
Sep 23, 2011 Linda rated it really liked it
I recommend the book.. It has been read and reviewed so many times that my testimonial is not needed. Ms. Penman is an excellent author who uses weird and repetitive sentence structuring in a positive manner for the reader. The book encompasses the border wars among England, France and Wales during the 12th and 13th centuries. Llewellyn, Princess Joanna, and King John of England are the main characters, each having made some contribution of historical importance. Llewellyn is known as the Great, ...more
Mar 17, 2016 Gary rated it it was amazing
An extremely compelling and memorable novel-one of the best in it's genre , about love and lust, passion and power , and the high politics of 13th century Wales and England.
It will stay in your memory , as it brings the subject matter alive.

It is the story about Welsh nationalist hero , Prince Llewelyn Ap Iowerth , who united Wales , and faced up to the corrupt and vicious King John of England , and of Joanna , John's unforgettable daughter, who was married at a young age , to Llewelyn , and who
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Penman received her bachelor's degree from the University of Texas at Austin, she majored in history, and also received a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from Rutgers University School of Law, and later worked as a tax lawyer. Penman suffered from an eighteen month bout with mononucleosis.

The Sunne in Splendour, a novel about Richard III of England is one of the most popular books on the Historical Nov
More about Sharon Kay Penman...

Other Books in the Series

Welsh Princes (3 books)
  • Falls the Shadow  (Welsh Princes, #2)
  • The Reckoning  (Welsh Princes, #3)

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“Poor Wales. So far from Heaven, so close to England.” 39 likes
“Eleanor would have been indifferent to the immorality of her adultery, but would never have forgiven the stupidity of it.” 2 likes
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