Monday, April 23, 2012

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman

"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 dreams of uniting Wales. But as John's attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales--and Llewelyn--Joanna must decide to which of these powerful men she owes her loyalty and love."
(from Goodreads)

3 Reasons Review:

1.Reason(s) why I wanted to read this book:

To be honest, this book (along with 6 other Penman novels) has been sitting in my TBR pile for years. Sharon Kay Penman's books are considered the gold standard by many who love authentically written historical fiction and this book has received much acclaim. I read The Sunne in Splendour previously and knew I would have to invest time and attention to this rich and complex novel of 13th century Wales.

2.Reason(s) I liked (or disliked) the novel:

I know I'm in the minority here, but I had issues with Here Be Dragons. I found the first 250+ pages to be disjointed and there were many threads to the plot that weren't connecting for me. I understand that this is a very research-intense storyline, but I started it twice to get the momentum going and had a rough time making all the pieces of the plot "fit." At times, there was so much information and historical/political details that it seemed like retelling facts and not showing a great story through action.

On the other hand, I was fascinated with the story of Joan/Joanna, the illegitimate daughter of King John,and it held my interest throughout. Penman created many memorable scenes involving her loyalty to her husband, Llewelyn, and her father, the king, and I felt so badly for her at times as she could never please them both. Although she was used as a pawn by the king and her marriage was arranged, her relationship with Llewelyn became one of deep love over time despite periods of strain. The dramatic scene where she proudly stands by her husband and honors him by giving him a humbling curtsy in front of King John was beautifully written.

favorite quote: (p.352) "What I know, Papa, is that I love you and I love Llewelyn, and the two of you are tearing me apart!"

3.Reason(s) I'm recommending (not recommending) this

Sharon Kay Penman doesn't need me to recommend her books -- she has legions of fans! Although I wanted to love this book (as so many blogging friends highly recommend it and LOVE it), it was easy for me to put it down. I kept asking myself, "What's wrong with me? Why am I not swept up by this story like so many others?" It's superbly researched and I learned much about the relations between England and Wales and many historical figures, I just found it a bit dry. Everyone's reading experience is uniquely their own, and this was my experience. I absolutely plan on reading more of Penman's work as it truly is enlightening and expands my (woefully lacking) knowledge of English and Welsh history. (About the only thing I did love about the book was the title! Brilliant! I won't spoil it for you as you can learn it in the author notes, but it is symbolic of the relationship and misunderstandings between 13th century England and Wales.)

3/5 stars

Title: Here Be Dragons
Author: Sharon Kay Penman
St. Martin Griffith Publishers
genre: historical fiction

**Thank you to Jenny @ Jenny Loves to Read for the brilliant Three Reasons Review.**


Melissa @ Confessions of an Avid Reader said...

That's a nice honest review, Joanne. I loved the book and the trilogy myself, but I think her Plantagenet books are better. Don't think something is wrong with you for not liking it as much as others. Your expectations for this one were likely pretty darn high given all the praise it receives.

The Sunne in Splendour is my absolute favourite Penman novel, but When Christ and His Saints Slept runs a close second.

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

I loved this book, as well as the next two in the trilogy, but I can understand you not loving it. Probably if I read this now, I might be meh about it, but at the time I read it I simply loved it, especially the relationship between Joanna and Llewellyn. The time when they are estranged broke my heart!

Daphne said...

I'm sorry you didn't like it more. It's been four or five years since I read it and I'm like Julie in wondering if I would still feel the same way about it now.

Misfit said...

I loved this to bits as well, but things happen and we can't all like the same books all the time. These things happen, and I'd rather see honest thoughts on the reading experience.

Joanne said...

Thanks, friends! On to the next Penman book! :)

Marg said...

I have really fond memories of reading this book! There are several iconic scenes that come to mind straight away.

Sunne in Splendour is my favourite of her books, but this one comes a close second. She is different to a lot of the other HF authors out there because her books are just so dense! I was a bit underwhelmed by the last one I read a couple of years ago but I do need to read the next one so I can figure out if it was me or the book!

Anne said...

I have not read this one yet, it is on my TBR list. Sorry to hear you didn't like it more, I have heard really good things about it.

Yvette said...

Don't you hate it when everyone loves a book and you don't? Of course it has to be that there's something wrong with you. :)

That's how I feel, at any rate, when it happens to me.

I've never read any Penman, but she's on my radar.

Aarti said...

I enjoyed this book, but I can completely understand your reaction to it! That's how I feel about Penman's Plantagenet books- I find them fairly tedious to read :-) I also think this book was the strongest of the trilogy- particularly the third book seemed like almost an exact rehash of this one.

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