This book has been on my TBR since November of 2013. It is one of those books that I always look at on my shelf and say "I'm reading that next". Then I never read it next. I put it on two different TBR challenge lists for 2019. I'm trying to read more pages over the summer than my ten year old. I guess it was finally time to read it next.
About 50 pages in and I'm like "WHY DID I WAIT SO LONG TO READ THIS?!?!" Another 20 pages in, I'm crying about something. Another 30 pages in, I'm screaming about how wonderful the writing is. Repeat that pattern for 700 pages. My husband will tell you that this scenario is the reason noise cancelling headphones were invented. Sorry but Llewelyn and Joanna are much more compelling than Sheldon and Amy. Prove me wrong. Seriously, he's on one side of the room laughing hysterically and I'm on the other side crying hysterically. It must be true love.
Penman's characters are always magnificent. Justin de Quincy is one of my literary boyfriends. He also needs more books if any of her publishers are reading his. Her Eleanor of Aquitaine is Eleanor of Aquitaine. There is no one else. Fight me on this. Ask the person who tried to tell me Allison Weir's Eleanor was better. It does not end well. I also believe that Richard Burton is the ultimate Henry VIII (and Thomas Becket and Mark Antony). If you can't tell I'm feeling pretty argumentative today. It must be the humidity and non-stop thunderstorms. I had a point I was trying to make here and I got side tracked.
The point was John. King John I of England is not typically a character we are suppose to like or feel sorry for. We are suppose to hate him (much like a certain author wants us to hate Henry VIII, again another post). We are suppose to want him fall in a Sarlacc pit. We want to see him drawn and quartered. We are not suppose to think he gets a raw deal. We are not suppose to see all of the good things he did for England. We are not suppose to feel bad for him because at the end of the day most of his family screwed him over. Penman manages to throw all of that out the window. Don't get me wrong, this John is not without flaws. This John is still manipulative, calculating, and full of Angevin temper. This John is also a father, a husband, and a man who does truly care about the people of England (not the nobles, the people). He is the kind of complex bad guy who you can't help but be kind of attracted to and scared of at the same time.
I could easily give each of the main players their own review. They are the kind of characters that stay with you long after you have put the book back on the shelf. Llewelyn has made his way on to my list of literary boyfriends. Joanna had me in tears. Why can't she just be happy? Why can't the Welsh just love her like Llewelyn does? And who doesn't love a woman who lights her husband's bed on fire? Angela Basset has nothing on Joanna.
Somewhere in the middle of all these characters is Wales. Reading Penman's descriptions of Wales reminded of the way I felt the first time I watched The Lord of the Rings. The way Jackson swept through New Zealand made me want to book a flight at that moment. I felt the same way about Wales. I want to visit 13th century Wales. I want to see waterfalls. I want to climb cliffs. I want to sit on the beach. I also want the English to leave the Welch alone. Just let them have their cows and mountains and log homes.
I need to wrap this up. I could go on and on about this novel. At the end of the day, unless you read it for yourself, you won't understand. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go track down the next two books in this trilogy.