This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,-- This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. ~~William Shakespeare, Richard III

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Alphabet in Historical Fiction Challenge: F

Whew! Again, just barely getting mine in on time!!

Each fortnight the ladies at Historical Tapestry will post a new letter of the alphabet and you do a blog post about a work of historical fiction that has that letter:
  • as the first letter in the title
  • as the first letter of the author's first or last name
  • the first letter of a character's first or last name
  • the first letter of a place where an historical event took place
So here is my post for the fourth letter of this challenge: F

Falls the Shadow, Sharon Kay Penman

Simon de Montfort was a man ahead of his time in the thirteenth century, a disinherited Frenchman who talked his way into an English earldom and marriage with a sister of the English king, Henry III. A charismatic, obstinate leader, Simon soon lost patience with the king's incompetence and inability to keep his word, and found himself the champion of the common people.

This is his story, and the story of Henry III, as weak and changeable as Simon was brash and unbending. It is a tale of opposing wills that woudl eventually clash in a storm of violence and betrayal - an irresistible saga that brings the pages of history completely, provocatively, and magnificently alive.

This is the second book in Penman's Welsh trilogy and covers the life of Simon de Montfort, a man who really was ahead of his time, thus causing him to be completely at odds with most of the nobility of his age. He helped bring about the start of Parliament in England which was not looked on favorably by Henry (what monarch would want to give up some of his power?). This book is full of very volatile characters with very big personalities, all very well described and their growth and change throughout very well documented. I was really amazed at how completely inept Henry was as a king and how he managed to keep his throne. I could fully sympathize with Simon in his annoyance with his monarch's complete lack of backbone, though I could see where he could have gone about things differently, thus not angering Henry quite as much. Simon really is a very human "hero" in this novel - he is championing a very noble cause and is a good, decent, and honorable man but he is also has quite a few flaws. I really feel it is his flaws that really made me cheer for him; he was so REAL. Henry's son, the future Edward I, made himself highly dislikable in my eyes with his constant betrayals and going back on his word. I can see now why he was such a powerful king. Interspersed with Simon and Henry's story is the continuing Welsh story - this time focusing on Llewelyn Fawr's grandson, Llewelyn, and his struggles against his brothers Owain and Davydd as he fights to keep alive his grandfather's wonderful dream of a strong and united Wales. I enjoyed this second book though not nearly as much as the first in the trilogy (but really, how can you NOT prefer reading about Llewelyn Fawr and Joanna?). I felt a bit bogged down in the middle with all the discussion about the Provisions and such, but things really picked up towards the end. I can not wait to read the last book in the series, The Reckoning, which truly focuses on Llewelyn and his final struggles in Wales.

*I will post a more detailed review next week.

Friday, February 26, 2010

This Day in History...

Couldn't find anything really exciting for today....

February 26 -Two of the US's national parks were established on this day 10 years apart--the Grand Canyon in 1919 and the Grand Tetons in 1929.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

This Day in History...

February 25, 1570 - Elizabeth I was excommunicated by Pope Pius V. He declared her a usurper because of her persecution of English Catholics. It was the last such judgment made against a reigning monarch by any pope. I doubt Elizabeth cared much what the Pope said.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Book Review: Young Bess

Young Bess, Margaret Irwin
3 roses

Young Bess is the beginning of a trilogy by Margaret Irwin being republished over the next year or two by Sourcebooks. It relates the early life of Elizabeth Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, from her early childhood years up until her brother Edward VI’s death. This is a period of Elizabeth’s life that is not focused on very much; her late teenage years and the years of her reign are widely covered. However this was a very dangerous time in Elizabeth’s life – growing up in the shadow of her infamous mother and constantly dodging political traps. Margaret Irwin gives us a very compelling look at what happened during those dangerous years.

The story is told through the eyes of several narrators – Elizabeth, Catherine Parr, Edward VI, the Seymours, the Duchess of Somerset – which made it a bit confusing and difficult to follow at times, but it also gives the reader many different view points on particular moments in history. I did enjoy seeing events through the eyes of Thomas and Ned Seymour and most especially from Ned’s wife, the Duchess of Somerset’s view point. I think her character was actually the most interesting in the entire novel; she really comes across as greedy, grasping, and manipulative. It was refreshing to get different perspectives which are not usually narrated in novels about this time period. The majority of the story focuses on the budding relationship between teenage Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour and his quest to wrench power away from his older brother, the Lord Protector. Irwin has her own interpretation of the depth of Elizabeth and Thomas’s relationship and doesn’t fill the pages with unnecessary seduction scenes. The reader is plunged into the depths of Tudor court intrigue and is given a “behind the scenes” look at how these very powerful people felt and operated. In wonderful detail, Irwin shows us religious and political conflicts, various alliances and betrayals, and descriptions of everyday life and issues of the period.

I did enjoy reading this novel but, while wonderfully written, it did not include any new facts about the period. It was an easy read for the most part despite the many narrators, though it did seem a bit juvenile in its writing style. I believe it would be a great book for young adult readers, or someone new to the genre, to read in order to become better acquainted with the time period and the many colorful characters. The second novel in the trilogy, Elizabeth, Captive Princess is due for reissue in October 2010 and the third novel, Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain will be out in the Spring of 2011.

*Reviewed for Bookpleasures

This Day in History...

February 24, 1981 - The Prince of Wales and the Lady Diana Spencer ended months of speculation when they announced that they would marry later in the summer.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

This Day in History...

February 23, 1945 - During the bloody Battle for Iwo Jima, U.S. Marines took the crest of Mount Suribachi, the island's highest peak and most strategic position, and raised the U.S. flag. Marine photographer Louis Lowery was with them and recorded the event.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review: Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth, Susan Fraser King
3.5 roses

I enjoy seeing novels that are based on the history that Shakespeare used to write his plays and this one was certainly enticing enough. Who wouldn't want to read more about Macbeth and his horrible queen? This story certainly goes behind the scenes of that notorious couple but in King's novel Lady Macbeth is no monster, only a woman of her times who needed to be a bit tough to survive. For the first time we are given a name for Macbeth's queen: Gruadh inghean Bodhe mac Cineadh mhic Dubh or Grudah (Rue) daughter of Bodhe son of Kenneth son of Duff. She has the blood of the Scottish kings running through her veins which makes her essential to those that want the Scottish crown; it also makes her a target for those that want to keep others from the throne. We watch Rue grow from a child to a strong and honorable woman throughout the story, dealing with many different struggles. Macbeth is actually her second husband in the novel and here he is a wonderful and strong leader, albeit with higher ambitions. It is intriguing to see behind the legends Shakespeare made to get at the truth and the bits and pieces of history that helped form his basis for the play. We see some of what we are familiar with from the play here in names of people and places and even some events, though spellings may be different or circumstances may have been altered.

We really see a lot more of these two characters made famous by Shakespeare though their portrayal is quite different. Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are shown as much more human, with feelings and emotions, love and honor. Rue is not a horrible, almost evil woman in the novel but a woman with honor and pride in who she is and in her country, a mother who wants to protect her son and his birthright, and a wife who wants her husband to succeed because he would be the best for the job. We really see the pride and honor behind the struggles for the Crown of Scotland. In this telling, there is absolutely nothing underhanded or wrong about the way Macbeth takes the throne - it is actually welcomed by the people of Scotland as he is a very strong and capable ruler.

This was a very interesting novel and it kept me wanting to read in order to find out how everything would tie together at the end but it just wasn't very "exciting" to me, despite all the magic, Viking raids, war, bloodshed, intrigue, and betrayal within its pages. It was just a more historical look at Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. There is nothing bad about the book just nothing very exceptional either. I can't quite put my finger on what was lacking in it for me because I really did enjoy the novel. It has absolutely fantastic details and descriptions of life and society in eleventh century Scotland. King's writing is wonderful and I had no problem envisioning the landscape and events described in the story. History and fiction are blended together beautifully and in a way that is very believable. I would certainly recommend readers pick this one up, especially if you like seeing the "truth" behind some very famous literary figures.

This Day in History...

February 22, 1371 - Robert II of Scotland succeeded to the throne.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Book Review: The Stolen Crown

The Stolen Crown, Susan Higginbothm
3.5 roses

This is another wonderful novel by Susan Higginbotham and it covers a very interesting and active period in British history – the Cousins War (or as we call it, the Wars of the Roses). Between the pages we get the story through the eyes of Katherine Woodville and her husband Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. We see from both points of view their marriage as children, their time at Edward IV’s court, their life at home, the birth of their children, and Henry’s involvement with Richard III.

The first half or so of the novel really focuses on their lives and how they both grow and mature in a very turbulent time. The second half of the novel seems to focus more on Henry’s involvement with Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Personally I liked the first half of the novel more because I really enjoyed watching Kate and Henry grow and come to love and care for one another. The scenes between the two when they were young were very sweet and touching. Higginbotham takes on some of the “rumors” about their marriage and shows how they could have been started and why. I thoroughly enjoyed how she weaved these into the story. The author also explores reasons why Buckingham rebelled against Richard and gives her version of “the truth” behind the mystery of the princes in the Tower, which seems believable. Richard III is not shown in a glowing light here but he is not made into a horrible monster (though Kate despises him). We see a more ruthless side of him but it just seems to make him appear more of a man of a time where you had to be a bit ruthless to survive.

As always in Higginbotham’s novels, the writing is wonderful, there are fantastic details and descriptions, and great character development. The two main characters, Kate and Henry, are very believable and you can sympathize with them even if you don’t agree with them. I really enjoy her writing – it is easy to read but I don’t feel like I’m reading something for young adults. She is just very clear in her writing with good details and marvelous research but yet the reader is not going to get bogged down in the pages. While I enjoyed reading this book I have to say I personally enjoyed her previous two (The Traitor's Wife and Hugh and Bess) much more, possibly because I felt there was more going on through out those novels. However, I am a huge fan of this author and I would recommend this book to anyone.

*Reviewed for

This Day in History...

February 19, 1408 - Henry IV defeated the rebellious Henry "Hotspur" Percy at the Battle of Bramham Moor. Percy's death removed the threat of rebellion in northern England and allowed Henry to focus more fully on Wales.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

This Day in History...

Several historical tidbits for today!

February 18, 1478 - George, Duke of Clarence, charged with treason against his brother Edward IV, was (supposedly) drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine at the Tower of London. According to legend, he was given the choice of how he wanted to die and this was what he chose.

February 18, 1504 - Henry Tudor, the future King Henry VIII, was invested as Prince of Wales at age 12 after the death of his older brother Prince Arthur.

February 18, 1517 - Mary Tudor, the future Mary I, was born to Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. She would be their only surviving child.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

This Day in History...

February 17, 1461 - Lancastrians defeat Yorkists in the second battle of St. Albans. Margaret of Anjou and her army are barred from London and a couple days later Edward of York and Warwick enter London and Edward is proclaimed Edward IV.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page. It is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

I am a day late on posting but oh well! Got several from Borders in my "every other month" monthly book shopping spree!

Royal Affairs, Leslie Carroll

I've been trying to get my hands on this one since it was released a few weeks ago and I finally got it! Yay! Who doesn't like reading about the seediness of royalty? Can't wait to dive into it!

Notorious Royal Marriages, Leslie Carroll

In the same vein as her newest work, this one chronicles all the wonderful marriages between royalty and all the juicy stories that go along with them!

A Treasury of Royal Scandals, Michael Farquahar

Another wonderful collection of all the fun the royals have had through the years.

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen

A random classic thrown in with all the raucous royals! I saw a movie version of this on Georgia Public Broadcasting the other night and it piqued my interest. I like Austen and this is one I hadn't read yet.

Book Review: The Mists of Avalon

The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
5 roses

I always love reading about King Arthur and this is, hands down, my favorite telling of the legend. This is an absolutely exceptional version of the famous legends. The book is quite long but I don't think you'll worry about that once you are immersed in the story between the pages.

In this epic novel Bradley tells us Arthur's story through the eyes of the women that loved and hated him, helped him and hindered him. Morgaine (Morgan Le Fey) and Gwenhwyfar are the two main narrators though Morgaine is the main protagonist in the story. There also sections told from other points of view: Igraine (Arthur's mother); Vivian, the Lady of the Lake; and Morgause, Morgaine's aunt and Vivian's sister. The novel spans a few generations, from Arthur's birth through his eventual downfall. We see how Morgaine is brought by her aunt Viviane to Avalon to train as a priestess and how much of the legend we are familiar with is their attempt to help Arthur while at the same time preserving their ancient ways. We get all the wonderful parts of the Arthurian legend here told in wonderful and breathtaking detail. Besides Arthur's story we also see the struggle in Britain between the Celtic, pagan tradition and Christianity, mainly through Morgaine's eyes as she tries desperately to save her Celtic culture. The two story lines (Arthur's and the religious struggle) are beautifully interwoven so that each affects the other. While the ancient pagan religion and magical practices do play a big part in this story I did not feel that they were too over the top or unbelievable; it is all very centered on the earth and nature.

Bradley's characters are extremely well developed and fascinating to follow. Morgaine, in most versions of the legend, is usually depicted as an evil, scheming sorceress while here she is shown as only trying to help her half-brother while saving her country and her religion. She was by far my favorite character; I could really sympathize with her throughout her many struggles in the novel. Gwenhwyfar is someone that I really did not like from the start. She is not a bad character but she goes from a very timid, mousy young child to a fanatically religious woman who believes her inability to give Arthur a child is God showing his displeasure over the existence of the pagan beliefs. At points she really can't make up her mind who or what she wants: Arthur or Lancelot? To believe in Morgaine's ways or to curse them? I really wanted to shake her a few times to help her make up her mind. Her pleas to Arthur really move him to turn his back on the pagan beliefs and this essentially becomes the catalyst that leads to his downfall. Morgause is really the villain in the story as she uses Morgaine and then Mordred as her tool to ruin not only Arthur but her sister Vivian as well. She is extremely ruthless and cunning in her constant struggle for power.

This is a truly wonderful and magnificent version of Arthur's story. Bradley's vivid descriptions of life and traditions during the Dark Ages and her intricate details of sights, sounds, and smells, really make the period come alive. You can almost close your eyes and see the Isle of Avalon appearing out of the mists. In my case, I wanted to be able to reach out and touch it. I would highly recommend this novel to any lover of Arthurian legends (it is quite long though so be prepared!) or to anyone who wants to become a lover of Arthurian legend.

*This was made into a TV mini series in 2001. It starred Anjelica Houston as Vivian.

This Day in History...

February 16, 1923 - Howard Carter lifted the lid off the sarcophagus to reveal a golden effigy of the young king Tutankhamun. He discovered the tomb 12 months earlier.

Monday, February 15, 2010

This Day in History...

February 15, 1898 - The USS Maine sinks in Cuba's Havana harbor after massive explosion of unknown origin, killing 260 of the American crew members aboard.

Friday, February 12, 2010

This Day in History...

February 12, 1554 - Lady Jane Grey, the "nine days queen," and her husband Lord Guildford Dudley were beheaded. After her father had joined they Wyatt rebellion, Queen Mary felt like she had no choice but to execute her cousin. Jane was just 16 and reportedly never wanted to be Queen at all.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

This Day in History...

February 11, 1466 - Elizabeth of York is born to Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. She would eventually become Henry VII's queen and Henry VIII's mother.

February 11, 1503 - Elizabeth of York, suffering from a postpartum infection, died after giving birth to a daughter.

February 11, 1542 - Catherine Howard, Henry VIII's 5th queen, was confined in the Tower of London for treason against the King. She was executed three days later.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

This Day in History...

February 10, 1840 - Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha were married in St James' Palace. There's was a true love match.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

This Day in History...

February 9, 1649 - The funeral of the executed King Charles I was held at Windsor.

February 9, 1855 - The 'Devil's Footprints' appeared in snowbound south Devon - 100 miles of cloven hoofprints in a single line.

February 9, 1942 - Soap rationing began in Britain during WWII.

February 9, 1964 - 73 million Americans tuned in to the Ed Sullivan Show to watch the Beatles for the first time in America.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mailbox Monday - February 8, 2010

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page. We share what books that we found in our mailboxes last week (checked out library books don’t count). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.

I got a couple this week that I am very excited about!

The Queen's Pawn, Christy English

I was honored to receive this ARC from the author to review. It is a novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine and Alais, Princess of France. I always love reading about Eleanor! Keep an eye out for my review closer to the release date!

The Seventh Son, Reay Tannahill

I can not tell you how excited I am to finally own this book! I broke down and ordered it from the Book Depository and jumped for joy when it arrived. It is a story of Richard III and comes highly recommended.

This Day in History...

February 8, 1587 - After 19 years of imprisonment, Elizabeth's council was finally able to implicate Mary Queen of Scots in a plot to overthrow the Queen. She was beheaded for treason at Fotheringay Castle.

Friday, February 5, 2010

This Day in History...

February 5, 1811 - The Regency Act was passed which allowed Prince George to rule because his father, King George III, was considered insane. He later became George IV.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

New Blog Award!

I have to thank thekoolaidmom at In the Shadow of Mt. TBR for this lovely award. This one means a lot!

There are a couple of rules for this award:

1. Every winner of the Prolific Blogger Award has to pass on this award to at least seven other deserving prolific bloggers. Spread some love!

2. Each Prolific Blogger must link to the blog from which he/she has received the award.

3. Every Prolific Blogger must link back to This Post, which explains the origins and motivation for the award.

4. Every Prolific Blogger must visit this post and add his/her name in the Mr. Linky, so that we all can get to know the other winners.

Here are my seven:

The Burton Review
Historical Tapestry
Passages to the Past
Peeking Between the Pages
Tanzanite's Shelf and Stuff
Enchanted by Josephine
Historically Obsessed

Booking Through Thursday - Winter Reading

BTT is hosted by Deb at Wordpress.

Q: The northern hemisphere, at least, is socked in by winter right now… So, on a cold, wintry day, when you want nothing more than to curl up with a good book on the couch … what kind of reading do you want to do?

The weather doesn't really affect my reading material, just my location and the addition of a fleece blanket. There is nothing better than curling up on the couch with a good book, under a fleece blanket, a fire burning in the fireplace, and a mug of hot chocolate nearby. I will probably want a good historical fiction covering people, places, times that really interest me so I can loose myself in their world for a while (though that is mainly what I read anyway...).

This Day in History...

February 4, 1945 - Winston Churchill, FDR, and Joseph Stalin met at Yalta to discuss plans for the post-war future. FDR would not see the end of the war however.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Book Review: Secrets of the Tudor Court: Between Two Queens

Between Two Queens, Kate Emerson
2 roses

I enjoyed the first book in Emerson's Tudor Court series well enough so I picked up the second in the series to continue the journey. While the first book was okay this one really fell flat.

**May contain spoilers**

This story is about Anne (Nan) Bassett, a young woman who comes to Henry VIII's court not only hoping to be chosen as a maid of honor to Queen Jane but determined to find a husband, a wealthy one complete with a title. She eventually captures the eye of the king and hopes to use that as a way of achieving her marriage goals though, of course, things don't work out as she wanted. Added to the mix is the pressure her mother puts on her to single-handedly advance the family socially and the fact that the family is caught up in intrigue and possible treason, which of course, Cromwell sniffs out . Aside from some really good details of life at the Tudor court, there really isn't much I can say about this novel. I never connected with any of the characters, finding them completely uninteresting. The main character, Anne Bassett, annoyed me throughout with her constant assessment of the men around her as marriage material: are they wealthy? do they have land? do they have a title? I understand that women of a certain social rank during this period did look for that in a man but she was so arrogant about it that it really made me dislike her. She really comes across as a greedy, self-serving little thing. Nan is constantly moving around in an effort to remain at court because, of course, you can't catch a titled husband anywhere else. The entire novel seemed a bit adrift as if the author wasn't entirely sure where she was going with it. I'm still not sure why she had Anne having a secret child, only to give it away and then have it die in the plague; I never saw the point in including this in the story as it never added anything to the overall narrative. At one point I thought one of the other young ladies was going to blackmail her with the knowledge but then that moment passed. Once she finally realized who she was in love with and wanted to marry, she wouldn't marry him until he had regained all his lands and their marriage is mentioned almost as an aside at the very end of the novel.

Anne Bassett was a real woman at Henry's court, though besides the fact that she was his mistress for a short time, not much is known about her. As in her first novel in the series, Emerson tried to weave mystery and intrigue into the story but I felt she really didn't succeed. Where as in the first novel I really did want to find out the answers to the "mystery," here I just didn't care. I would only recommend this to people looking for some light fluff to read and not someone who is very well read about the Tudor era.

This Day in History...

February 3, 1399 - John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster died. He was not only the father of King Henry IV, but also, from his relationship with Katherine Swynford, pretty much the "father" of most of Britain's royalty for generations to come.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Book Review: Her Mother's Daughter

Her Mother's Daughter, Julianne Lee
3 roses

This was a look at events in Mary Tudor's (daughter of Henry VIII) life through not only her own eyes but through the eyes of some of those around her. While I am not a big fan of Mary, I do enjoy reading different versions of her life.

The story begins when she's about six and betrothed to her cousin Charles and continues all the way to her death. There is a closer look at her feelings and emotions throughout the events in her life, which has been lacking in other novels about her. The author appears to have really tried to show what Mary could possibly have been thinking and feeling at many different points in her life. We also get, at the start of most chapters, what appears to be Mary's thoughts about events as if she's looking back after her death and commenting on the coming events. This is an intriguing addition to the story that I enjoyed. Mary's portrayal here is quite believable - she is not shown as being as horrible as some like to think her but she also does not come across as a saint. We see a woman who can and wants to love but we also she her stubbornness, especially when it comes to her religion. My heart went out to her after her marriage and we got more of a look at Prince Philip; she did not deserve to be treated in that manner.

There really was no new insight into her life but that was okay. I will admit, the beginning of the novel had me confused for a while until I realized what the author's intent was - to show how modern people view Queen Mary. The bits where she is looking back and commenting on the past were my favorite parts of the story. That being said, while I thought the author's portrayal of Mary was believable, the entire story moved along very, very quickly, seeming to just glaze over some rather important aspects of Mary's life. I was also a bit puzzled as to why the author decided to throw in some of the other points of view (such as the London pickpocket) unless it was to simply show the reader how the "common" person might have felt about the royal family and current events. I did not think this added to the story in any way and made the reading a bit choppy.

While this was not a horrible read it did not live up to my expectations. I probably would only recommend this to die-hard Tudor fans and to those that are just looking for an introduction to the big players in this drama filled time period. The author did try to present a tale that shows the "hows" and "whys" of this Queen's behavior but the overall novel just fell short.

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme hosted by MizB at Should be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The White Boar, Marian Palmer

"I've sent messengers to Hastings; we'll soon hear from him how matters are going. All being well, we should be able to bring the boy into London by Sunday next."

"Good: if the people only see him then, it will distract any suspicion at the postponement of the coronation."

This Day in History...

February 2, 1650 - Nell (Eleanor) Gwynne is born. She became a comedy actress and later mistress of Charles II.

February 2, 1665 - British forces captured New Amsterdam, the centre of the Dutch colony. It was renamed New York in honour of the Duke of York, the new governor.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Book Review: Here be Dragons

Here Be Dragons, Sharon Kay Penman
5 roses

This first novel in Penman's Welsh trilogy is yet another example of why this author is so wonderful and one of my favorites. You could make the argument that this is the story of three different people: Llewelyn of Wales, King John of England, and Joanna, John's illegitimate daughter and Llewelyn's wife. Their stories are woven together beautifully and this was a book I had trouble putting down! I think the love story between Llewelyn and Joanna woven together with the wonderful story of Wales is what had me enthralled.

The scope of the story is rather large, over twenty years pass between the covers and many events are covered: Llewelyn's early years, John's coming to the English throne, his constant struggle with Wales, the constant trouble with his barons, and Llewelyn's struggles in Wales. Thanks to marvelous writing and character development, the reader will really connect with the three main characters in this novel. Penman gives us a glimpse of what helped form Llewelyn into the strong man he became. It would be really hard NOT to fall in love with Llewelyn - he is such a fair and understanding, kind and honorable person, not to mention extremely intelligent. His determination to try to unite Wales was wonderful and really showed how brillant the man was. I was completely caught up in his story and I thoroughly enjoyed getting a glimpse into medieval Wales. There is quite a bit of description of how the Welsh felt about battles and war and how they fought them. As for King John, we really see two very different sides to this man - the very caring and loving father (I really loved the whole scene when Joanna is finally brought to him, it was so sweet) and the very ruthless and disliked king. While it was a bit hard to wrap my mind around a John that was extremely caring and loving towards his children, Joanna in particular, it was wonderful to read. Seeing how John was around his children really made a contrast with how ruthless he was in his later years as king. I believe this really helps the reader understand Joanna's torn feelings when it comes to her father. Joanna was given to Llewelyn as her father's way of trying to exert some control over the Welsh leader and in the beginning she is understandably very scared to be thrown into a world that is so alien to her. Through the course of the novel we see her mature from a young girl to a mature young woman who knows she must accept the consequences of her actions. There really are some priceless moments as she grows, most notably the scene when she orders Llewelyn's bed to be burned. She does come to deeply love Llewelyn which really causes her to be torn between him and her father. She has a very hard time accepting the things John has done and her feelings of guilt over his actions lead her to commit her act of betrayal. Llewelyn's eventual forgiveness of that act just make him even that much more wonderful in my mind.

Besides the three main characters, there are many other very colorful and well developed figures throughout the story (some of the most annoying being Llewelyn's horrible son Gruffydd and William de Braose). They all add to the whole picture of medieval Wales and England that the author is creating. Penman's meticulous details of life in Wales had me spell bound - the images she can create are magnificent and it is wonderful to be able to picture such a distant time and place in my mind. I would highly recommend this novel. I believe it will appeal to a wide variety of readers and I do not think you will be disappointed!

*As I mentioned, this is the first book in a trilogy. The next installment is Falls the Shadow, which focuses on Simon de Monfort and his relationship with Henry III (John's son). The last novel, The Reckoning is about Llewelyn's grandson, Llewelyn, and his struggles against the English king.

This Day in History...

February 1, 1587 - Queen Elizabeth I, under pressure from her Council, signed the warrant authorizing the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. She had tried to avoid it for almost twenty years.