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

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Alphabet in Historical Fiction Challenge: S

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 next letter of this challenge: S

The Sunne in Splendour, Sharon Kay Penman

From the back cover: In this beautifully rendered modern classic, Sharon Kay Penman redeems Richard III - vilified as the bitter, twisted, scheming hunchback who murdered his nephews, the princes in the Tower - from his maligned place in history with a dazzling combination of research and story telling.

Born into the treacherous courts of fifteenth-century England, in the midst of what history has called the War of the Roses, Richard was raised in the shadow of his charismatic brother, King Edward IV. Loyal to his friends and passionately in love with the one woman who was denied him, Richard emerges as a gifted man far more sinned against than sinning.

I honestly don't know where to start with this one! I can say that it is probably the best book I have ever read. The story begins when Richard is about seven years old and witnesses the Lancastrian sacking of Ludlow and ends a few years after his death with Elizabeth of York reminiscing. Ms. Penman does an absolutely fantastic job of refuting the generally accepted version (from Shakespeare's play) of Richard's life and personality. She gives us a human Richard, one who had fears and doubts but was unfailingly honorable and loyal. One of the things that stand out in this novel is the way Ms. Penman shows how events and people around him while he was growing up really helped shape the man Richard would ultimately become. As in all her books, her impeccable research is beyond compare and her knowledge of her subject really shows; you can tell she did her homework before writing her novel. She blends history with her storytelling so beautifully that the reader is transported to another time and place effortlessly. All of the characters in the story are wonderfully written and developed, making it seem like you are old acquaintances and could reach out and touch them. While full of detail and description, the narrative does not get weighed down or feel like you're plowing through an encyclopedia; everything is relevant, helping the story move along and giving the reader a deeper insight to not only Richard's life and personality but to the world around him which helped make him who he was. She also (thankfully) does not twist the history completely out of shape simply to fit the story she is trying to tell or include all manner of rumors just because they are sensational. She will mention in her author's note the places where she did make some changes to help the story along as well as how she developed her theories on Richard. There just is no one else who can write like Ms. Penman and tell such a remarkable story.

This is a large book but don't let that keep you from it; you will not regret the time you spend between its covers! Once you begin reading I promise you will not want to put it down. Every time I immerse myself in Penman's world I find it very difficult to pull myself away. Please look for a more in depth review on my blog in the next week.


  1. Oh I loved this, and Sharon definitely sets the gold standard for book set in this period.

  2. This was my first Penman, and my first Richard III and it started me on a journey that I have enjoyed ever since, both in reading through her backlist, and reading about the life and times of Richard III.