FALLS THE SHADOW by Sharon Kay Penman


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Penman takes up where she left off in Here Be Dragons (1985), producing another fat (577 pp.) historical novel, with lots of intrigue, drama, finely crafted cameos, and sweeping panoramas. The focus here is on the conflict between the weak and vacillating Henry III of England and the charismatic Simon de Montfort, brilliant soldier and champion of the Provisions--laws enacted by the barons to limit the abuses of the monarchy. Simon, a penniless, landless young Frenchman, talks his way into an English earldom and into the heart of Nell, widowed Countess of Pembroke and sister to King Henry. Their love match is the warm heart of the story from which the political events of the 36 years between 1231 and 1267 radiate. In an early foreshadowing of the later tragedy, Simon is repudiated and exiled by Henry for his actions as the King's governor in Gascony. He returns from exile and a Crusade only to fall afoul of Henry again when he becomes the most ardent supporter of the Provisions, a political stance ahead of its time, which brings him in touch with the middle classes and finally forces him into open rebellion and warfare against the King he cannot respect. Simon de Montfort is seen through Penman's thoughtful and well-researched perspective as a hero, a brilliant leader passionately committed to his ideals, a man passionately devoted to his wife and children. Meanwhile, Welsh political events--the death of Llewelyn and the conflict between his sons Davydd and Gruffydd--are presented in a lively (and more engaging) counterpart to the English. (Fortunately, Penman promises a sequel with more of the Welsh drama.) Although this one lacks the special sparkle of Penman novels to date--and is considerably slower going--it's nonetheless admirably well-researched and will keep many readers steadily moving, treating them to some splendid period detail.

Pub Date: May 16th, 1988
Publisher: Henry Holt