This was my first Penman book. It certainly won’t be my last. This book was brilliant. There are close to 1,000 reviews of the wonderful novel on Goodreads alone…so I won’t go into details about it. I highly doubt if there is anything that I could add to…however, I must share some of the thoughts I had whilst reading it…
This book grabbed me from the very first page. The last 50 pages, I had to keep putting it down. I just couldn’t handle the pain of it all. I was truly upset. Yes, this is a book of fiction…but the events are based on fact. No matter if the Penman invented the words of her own imagination, there has to be some truth in them….there’s no other way that it could have played out (READ. THE. BOOK).
However the whole concept just has me questioning everything I’ve ever known in life. What can I mean by that? Stay with me and I hope to explain….
I’m American, married to a lovely English bloke. As an American I confess, I haven’t learnt much *real* English history. This book must have driven my husband mad, as the first day I asked him dozens of questions. Bless him, he was googling like mad a few times for me. Throughout this entire book, I had my laptop by my side and googled time and time again.
I don’t know how it is for the rest of the world, I can only speak for me…but I was one who dreamed of a knight to come sweep me off of my feet. To *rescue* me. To be a fine lady dressed in layers of clothing.
The reality? Oh dear me. Where does this fantasy come from? Of princes and princesses? Of Kings and Queens? Of Knights and Ladies? The romanticized version of them. Why does it play such a huge part in children’s dreams? The reality is that women, nay, children, both male and female, were mostly used as pawns of war and empty promises of peace. Love did not come into play. Was there really any concept of romantic love throughout history? Or is that simply a modern fantasy that is pushed onto us? Sounds harsh? Look back through time and tell me why this is harsh? Reality is often harsh….Even now, look around you. Do you not see power and wealth still often play a part in “love”.
After reading this book, I have even less faith in religion. Not that I’ve had much faith in the last few years. I’ve always known that religion has been used as a tool and a harsh weapon throughout the ages, but this book really brought home how “ordinary” men used it in horrible ways. What makes the Pope someone to decide life and death over an entire Country? Don’t misunderstand me. This novel doesn’t really focus on those wrongs….they are merely mentioned as a fact of the circumstances that the Kings and the ordinary people dealt with. Entire countries being under interdict, of men in high power being excommunicated numerous times, simply because the Church wanted their way. I don’t care how much you fancy in there being a higher power, religion has been used as a weapon far too many times…ordinary, simple, innocent, GOOD people have been punished and hurt all in the name of that power…
Finally, although this book makes me question the entire concept of romantic love…I have to confess, it also restores my faith in that love a bit….I just can’t help it. Throughout history there HAS been instances when men and women gave up all for it’s name. Kings have laid down their crowns to obtain it. Men and women have died AND killed for it. So now I am so conflicted. I honestly just go round and round with the concept. There is no doubt that the main characters in this novel married as part of a political power play. However, somewhere along the way, they must have fallen in love. The real Joan MUST have felt conflicts in her life. Her father, the King and her husband, the Prince, in constant wars with one another. It does appear that she chose her husband above all she knew and how she was brought up. It is also true that he forgave her in the end. No matter how else I see it, no matter how much I try to weigh up the gains he would have taking her back…well there is no way I can see that they outweigh the losses he might have faced. At the end of the day, romantic love is the only logical reason for him to forgive her….and really….where is the logic of that in the 1200’s?
Until next time…
Buy it now Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman