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

Monday, March 22, 2010

Book Review: The Reckoning

The Reckoning, Sharon Kay Penman
5 roses

This is the last novel in Penman's Welsh trilogy and I have to say, I did NOT want it to end (in part because I knew how it would end). I positively loved this series and was fascinated with the Welsh history. In this novel we get the final story of the struggle between Llewelyn ap Gruffydd (or Llewelyn Ein Llyw Olaf, Llewelyn Our Last Leader) and Edward I. Llewelyn is trying desperately to realize his dream of a strong and united Wales while Edward wants to see the entire island under his control. This is a novel that has something for almost any reader: love, romance, war, intrigue, politics, betrayals, power struggles, revenge, and even pirates.

As in her previous novels in the series (in fact, in ALL of her novels), this one is full of fantastic writing, breathtaking detail, and exceptional character development. She really makes the characters come to life; I feel like I could travel to Wales and actually run in to some of them! The plots in these stories are very complex and twisted (of course, the times she is writing about were awfully complex) but she does a fantastic job of making it easy for the reader to keep everything straight. In this novel there are three main story lines woven tightly together: Llewelyn and Ellen de Monfort's relationship, Llewelyn's constant struggle with his brother and the other Welsh lords, and his battle against England's King Edward I. Because they are so tightly connected a slight change in one story line will have a drastic affect on another. I was cheering for Llewelyn and Ellen the whole way; I thought it was touching how much he cared for her even before they were married. I hated the way Ellen's cousin, Edward I, held her as a hostage in an attempt to subdue Llewelyn, thus denying them precious time together. The fate of Ellen and their child almost had me in tears. My negative feelings about Edward I only continued and strengthened through this novel. I am certainly not implying that I think he was a bad king I just don't feel, after reading about him in this trilogy, that he was a good man. His determination to punish Ellen's one surviving brother Armary for something the other brothers did really pushed me the wrong way and his treatment of Llewelyn and Davydd's children at the end was horrible. Knowing what would happen to Wales made me hate him even more. During Llewelyn's constant struggles with his brother Davydd and the Welsh lords I just wanted to reach through time and smack some sense into them and tell them that Wales would be destroyed if they didn't unite with Llewelyn. The constant bickering and fighting between the Welsh really played right into Edward's hands. Penman's writing is amazing and I could feel the tension growing in these characters as the story progressed.

Despite knowing how history turns out and dreading reading about it, I couldn't stop turning the pages. I did manage to put it down before the climatic moment because I was sure I would cry and I was subbing in a high school language arts class at the time. Penman is such a superb storyteller and manages to combine impeccable historical research with fantastic fictional writing so easily. I think one sign of a phenomenal historical fiction author is their ability to pull their readers into their writing and make the history come alive, causing strong emotional attachment from the reader. Penman does this to perfection. I really was emotionally involved from page one. What I also enjoy are her Author's Notes at the end where she gives some "after the final curtain" information about the characters and even lets the reader know the places in the novel where she took some creative license and changed a few facts. Out of the three I would rank this one as my second favorite behind Here be Dragons and ahead of Falls the Shadow. Readers unfamiliar with this time might better recognize Edward I as the king in Braveheart. I would certainly recommend this novel to anyone and especially those interested in Welsh history. This one will certainly tug at your heartstrings.


  1. After reading all your reviews for this series, I am definitely adding it to my reading list. Thanks for your wonderful reviews!

  2. This book was a very emotional read for me! I have really enjoyed reading your reviews of this series. Brought back memories for me of when I read the books!