Monday, March 04, 2013

Lionheart - a review..

Took me a while but I've finally finished Lionheart! If you're thinking of trying it, be warned that this book is HUGE, but don't let that put you off .....

So what do you get in your 600 odd pages of very small print?? One cracking story...  this was originally intended to be a book in its own right, but Ms. Penman soon realised that the whole story was never going to be able to put in one book so she decided to split it in two...  this is volume 1 and basically covers the events of the 3rd Crusade up to when Richard departs the Holy Land....

The story covers his preparations in France, and his journey to the Holy Land via Cyprus and Sicily - there is a cast of thousands mostly drawn from actual history so we meet the treacherous Isaac Comenus, Balian the saviour of Jersualem, Sybilla, the Lusigans, Tancred, the weasely Phillip King of France, Joanna his sister, Eleanor of Aquitaine (his mother), the heads of the military orders of Hospitallers and Templars, and towering over them all is Richard Coeur de Lion...  a veritable force of nature if Ms Penman is to be believed....

What she's good at is depicting the minutiae of medieval life - illness, the importance of marriage in holding the warring western countries together (marrying off sisters to anyone who looked a threat seemed to be the done deal), diplomacy, bickering, politics - and all of this occuring at the same time as the 3rd Crusade....

The politics are treacherous...  the French under Philip won't always help Richard, Philip hates Richard among other reasons for not marrying his sister (who Richard was betrothed too at birth, but his father Henry had deflowered long before!), Richard doesn't have enough strength to carry the campaign on his own, but in the meanwhile the knights and families who live in the Holy Land, the "Poulains [clicky]", have their own agenda - they know that they will have to continue living in the Holy Land after Richard and Phillip have left and are more concerned about a strong succession....

Then there are the Saracens and Saladin - what I found interesting was the sheer amount of diplomacy that went on throughout the conflict - Richard never met Saladin face to face (so that picture from my child hood Ladybird book on Richard demonstrating to Saladin how his sword could cut through an iron bar wasn't the case.. ) but Richard did seem to get on very well with them - he even knighted some of the Saracen Emirs and at one time was hatching a plot to marry his sister to Saladin - not sure if he'd have actually gone thorough with it! The fact remains that Richard never completed the capture of Jerusalem, and when the war finally came to an end it was only because both he and Saladin had fought themselves to exhaustion and signed a truce.....

The depictions of battle are excellent - thirst, heat, flies, sand and the fundamental fact that if the Crusaders remained disciplined the Saracens could do little to damage them due to their heavy armour...

The medieval period is hugely interesting to me - I've long thought of starting a Wars of the Roses project (the first Sharon Penman book I read was the "Sunne in Splendour" set in that period and about the House of Plantagenet - also recommended by the way) but from a wargaming perspective I've always thought it might be a little dull (long lines of armoured men march towards each other, bash each other with large metal implements, and then die horribly) the 3rd Crusade however, offers an alternative.....

An absolute cracker - I rate this 8.5 out of 10.....  read it!

11 comments:

  1. Sounds good. I really am going to have to get one of these Kindle thingies. Don't relish dragging that off on a plane!

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    1. You may have gathered from my posts on the subject that I wasn't one hundred percent convinced, but then I brought one for the current Mrs Steve the Wargamer and had a road to Damascus type experience.. I wouldn't be without it now....

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  2. Sounds a good book, one more for the Kindle-I do like the medieval period but feel I have only a basic grasp of the chronology. I do have some knights undercoated on the lead pile however....

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    1. Matt - one of the joys of decent historical novels is the way that they manage to convey facts, like time lines, in an enjoyable way.. this is one of them... very immersive experience...

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    2. It is now safely installed on my Kindle!

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  3. Steve . . . about that cover art. It is my understanding that Richard did not use the three lions of England while on crusade, but rather two lions rampant combatant (upright facing each other -- gold on red).


    -- Jeff

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    1. Hi Jeff.... well done, you're correct (it was either one Lion as per his father Henry or two lions upright and facing each other and Ms Penman mentions that in the novel)... he also never used a two handed sword (while still having a long sword strapped to his hip!).... the armour as depicted is a bit modern for the period (?? not sure about those plates on the shoulder).. and I suspect the model is a bit of a weed in comparison... Still... good picture though!

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  4. Sounds interesting - I'm with you on the medieval wargaming thing though. There doesn't seem to be much to it.

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    1. CK - I have a suspicion that this is a period where the interest is more in the mind than in the wargame depiction.... as a callow youth I loved (still do) The White Company/Sir Nigel, The Black Arrow, Ivanhoe, Robin Hood etc. but I somehow thought that gaming it might fall short... when push comes to shove, errrr... it is just two lines of blokes pushing and shoving, or one line of blokes with bows decimating another line of blokes on horses...

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  5. Thanks for that - just ordered it to read on deployment!

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    1. Paul - hope it's a long (safe) deployment..! :o)

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