Philippa's Reviews > Here be Dragons

Here be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman
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's review
Sep 09, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction

Right, it took me MONTHS to get through the first 200 pages of this book. I borrowed it from a friend who'd given it the highest of recommendations, and I was trying so hard to perserve, but, honestly, it was just really boring. It was far too difficult to keep track of the myriad of background characters, and none of the varying storylines seemed tied together, and to be honest the only character I vaguely cared about was LLewelyn running wild in the welsh hills.

And then, all of a sudden, just when I was about to give up entirely and either return it to my friend with the vaguest of comments orrr point her in the direction of better reads, it got REALLY GOOD. I mean, couldn't put it down, stayed up too late, read the last 600 pages in two days sort of good.

My knowledge of historical events is only just this side of nonexistent, so I must admit that some of the finer plot points - particularly on the political side of things - went a bit over my head. But thankfully, as long as you can keep track of the main characters, you can muddle through the rest of the book with only a mild sense of occasional confusion. And it is so, so very worth it.

Joanna and Llewelyn both had my heart pretty much from the first time they appeared on the pages. I'm rarely one for romance reads, but their love story had me gripped, and I found myself dearly rooting for their marriage to survive everything thrown at it.

The other area this book really triumphed in was its portrayal of the welsh lands and the welsh spirit. Although there aren't that many descriptions of the wild landscapes (at least not considering its 800 pages), those that remain are spot-on. Joanna's fear and awe and amazement at her first glimpse of them is perfect. And the characteristations of the welsh people: spirited, untamed and deeply, deeply passionate about their land and their culture and their people, particularly when it comes to defying the English - I'm struggling to think of any books (outside of welsh fiction) which grasp that so wonderfully.

I wouldn't recommend this if you're looking for a light, easy read. This is a spectacular, epic work of historical fiction, overflowing with facts and nuanced characters and complex political alliances. I enjoyed it immensely, and I'm looking forward to reading the next...but only after a bit of a break with a couple of less-absorbing novels.

PS Disappointingly, not a single dragon featured. The fleeting appearance of even one might have pushed this up to five stars. Hoping Penman will reconsider this for her future novels.

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