Wednesday, February 2, 2011

REVIEW: Here be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman

In the 13th Century, Wales is in turmoil-at war with itself and in constant conflict with neighboring England. Having lost his claim to his Uncle, 14 year old Llewelyn ab Iorwerth sets out to reclaim what is rightfully his. Meanwhile in England, young Joanna lives alone with her mother. When her mother dies tragically, 5 year old Joanna must find a new home but because she is a bastard her mother's family will not accept her. Joanna is brought far away and discovers that her father is none other than King John of England. Joanna grows into a lovely young woman but still the conflict between Wales and England continues. In order to secure truce a marriage is made between the illegitimate Joanna and Llewelyn who has regained his kingdom from his Uncles and now rules much of Wales. At first Joanna is hesitant, not wanting to leave her home in England and her father behind but soon she grows to love her Welsh husband and his country. When the truce is repeatedly broken Joanna is torn between loyalty to her husband and love for her father. Llewelyn must decide whether he can love Joanna or whether she will always be John's daughter.

Part history lesson, part love story I was glued to this book from page one. SKP really made all the characters come alive. All of them from the conflicted Joanna, to the strong Llewelyn, to the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine to the much reviled King John were all well formed and fascinating. I felt like I was inside the minds of these characters-their emotions and thought processes were very realistic. You will find no two dimensional characters inserted as filler here and no instances of questioning the actions of characters. She made all of these historical figures very real, flaws and all. There is also no definitive role for these characters and no King John=bad, Llewelyn=good. There were points in this book where I actually felt for King John and other points where I really disliked Llewelyn.

The historical detail in this book was wonderful. Having not read much of Wales during this time period, I learned a lot about the politics at the time. Wales was not just at odds with England, the biggest problem they faced was not being able to unite the kingdoms of Wales to face England as one. Llewelyn fought with other Welsh Princes and he was even forced to fight against his own son in order to keep some semblance of peace. Add to that the fact that England wanted total subservience from the Welsh and when this did not happen they invaded. Also the way the loyalties in England were constantly switching, it is a wonder anyone was able to hold on to the throne for a length of time.

The heart of the story was really Johanna and her relationships with her father and her husband. Everyone else knew John as a cruel tyrant, but to her he was her loving father. She loves Llewelyn but at time wonders if he loves his kingdom more.

I can't say anything other than I absolutely LOVED this book! If you have not read it go get it. I will recommend this for guys, girls, history, historical fiction, and romance lovers. I will probably be randomly attacking strangers in Barnes & Noble beseeching them to pick up this book and giving it out for Christmas/Birthday gifts to all my reader friends.

This book is from my own personal library


  1. You are now an official Penmenian. Welcome to the club :)

  2. I have been trying to read one of her books all last year - but alas never got to it. I have this one on my shelf too - and I am determined to get to at least one of them this year! Great review - thanks!

  3. Yay! So glad to see another Penmenian join the ranks! This is such a fabulous trilogy and I loved Sunne in Splendour as well.

  4. I read this years ago, but it is still one of my favorites and one of the reasons I am a historical fiction addict.

  5. I have adored this book for decades! I still pull it out and re-read passages. Recently, I pushed it into the hands of my daughter who tends toward Tudor period literature, but who must give this a go! Finally!
    A marvelous service to all readers to put this up.

  6. Misfit-A Penmenian! Is there a badge or secret handshake? :)

    Heather-I told myself I was going to read Penman and Chadwick last year and didn't get to either. This year is going to be my year for both.

    Marg-I have Sunne in Splendour on my shelf. I will definitely be finishing the welsh trilogy this year but am hoping to get to this one too.

    Susan-Philippa Gregory is the reason I am a historical fiction addict. I think its interesting how everyone I know who reads HF can pinpoint that 1 author who made them realize how wonderful the genre truly is.

    Cerise-I hope your daughter loves it. I started with the Tudors too but am so glad I branched out to other time periods.

  7. One of my favourite authors and books. I've read all of hers except the last two which are waiting patiently for me! She is brilliant!