Friday, April 07, 2006
The Sunne in Splendour - Sharon K. Penman [April/06]
This is by far the best book I have read so far this year! It was Sharon Penman's very first novel, which is shocking considering how well-written it is. I had been planning to read a Penman novel for quite some time, but this month was the first time that I felt I had the time for such an undertaking. At over 900 pages, it was one of the longer books I had attempted in recent memory, but very worth it. The novel is predominately about Richard III, the last-born son of the Duke of York. He is just young when his father goes to war against the House of Lancaster in an attempt to reclaim the throne for the Plantegenet's and from there it spans 33 years of Richard's life showing the lives and deaths of the people that surround him.
This was the first time I had read anything on the Plantegenet family. I had heard of the War of the Roses, what the power struggle was known as at the time, but it was not a period I had given my studies to. With the death of his father in this early battle, the fight for the kingdom has been laid in the hands of Richard's charismatic older brother, Edward. When Edward was just nineteen he defeated the House of Lancaster and became England's new king. Edward is covered quite extensively in this novel as he is in power for many of the 33 years the book covers. He is quite a character, though, with his love of all that is wonderful and by the church, sinful, but he is also a man that his brother has looked up to for most of his life. While the sins of Edward come to play in the fall of the house of York, he made England a great country for many years and went to his early grave undefeated.
Another character that plays a large role in this novel is Anne Neville. She was the daughter of Edward and Richard's cousin, and because he came to side with the enemy, she was denied to Richard for many years. Their love for each other was stronger than the times, though, and while it would come to add to the tragedy of Richard's fall to the Tudor's, it was one of my favourite aspects of the book. They had genuine caring for each other and in a time when it was common for a man to have mistresses, once Anne was offically his, he did not stray. A very compelling aspect in such a tumultuous time.
As my knowledge of Richard III is limited, I was surprised that on the back of the book it says that "Sharon Kay Penman redeems Richard III from his villianous role in history as the hulking, evil hunchback". He is by no means perfect, but I find it hard to believe people saw him this way. His only great crime seemed to be that he was a bad judge of a man's character, and trusted men more out of duty than because of any lasting trait of the man. This book will touch you in ways that you would never imagine. It shows the sights of battle, but also what life was like in 15th-century England. It is time for any lover of historical fiction to share in the joys of the rise of the house of York and to shed tears at the lose Richard to the Tudors and the last of the Plantagenet Kings.
When the Tudors gain so much interest in fiction, it is nice to hear about another side of the royal families. There are many characters in this book that you will learn to love and hate. It may be Richard's tale, but that does not mean that Penman does not give other characters their moment in the spotlight and the reader the oppurtunity to get to know them and eventually feel for them as Richard does. This book is an epic that will never die and should be a required reading for at least people that love history, if not all readers that love a quality story.