In Penman’s (Lionheart, 2011) sequel, Richard the Lionheart, deserted by King Philippe Capet of France, has failed to take Jerusalem from Saladin and now treks homeward.
It’s 1192, the Third Crusade has stalled, and as King Richard lands in Sicily, a simple tale of heading home soon turns complex. Richard is warned that Philippe’s allies are waiting in Marseilles to capture his small party, so he decides to approach Europe via the stormy Adriatic Sea. Shortly after landing, he's captured—in defiance of papal decree—by the Holy Roman Emperor, Heinrich, who wants ransom. Richard is dispatched to the prison castle of Trifels. Weeks later he’s rescued by his ever loyal counselor, Longchamp, reviled by foes as a "misshapen dwarf." Richard returns to Normandy and fights to reclaim land taken by Philippe. Detailed down to the last flagon of wine, Penman’s work will please serious fans of historical fiction. Conferences and confrontations between kings and emperors, dukes and archbishops stretch across Europe from Sicily to Nottingham (Prince John appears but not Robin Hood), every page illustrating prodigious research. Aristocrats, abbots and archbishops come to life in an era when bishops were churchmen, soldiers and politicians. Women conversely were chattel, bargained away in marriage to strengthen loyalties between vassals and liege lords. The most intriguing woman is Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard’s mother and primary adviser, with a "spine, like the finest swords, forged in fire." Characters rise from the pages—Richard, brave warrior, skilled diplomat; Heinrich, "If he were cut, he’d bleed ice"; the mercenary Mercadier; and multitudes more. Seven years of sieges and battles, confrontations in castles and on horseback are lovingly detailed, marred only by the occasional intrusion of an overly modern perspective.
With enough story to fill two Cornwells and a Lambdin, Penman’s latest is a massively entertaining work of historical fiction for dedicated fans.