Monday, August 28, 2006

Title: Falls the Shadow
Author: Sharon Kay Penman
Published: 1988, Ballantine
Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 6/10 (But don't pay much attention to this as I am horribly conflicted about it.)

This is my book for Angie's TBR challenge. This month we were supposed to read a non-romance book. And this is definitely not a romance. I should get extra points for how much this is not a romance. It is the second book in Penman's Welsh trilogy. I'd read the first, Here Be Dragons, and a LOVED it. So I've had this one sitting in the TBR.

The trilogy focuses on the tense relationship between England and Wales in the 13th century. Here Be Dragons is devoted mostly to the Welsh prince, Llewelyn (my love), who was married to the illegitimate daughter of King John. Falls the Shadow moves the focus to England and tells the story of King John's successor, King Henry, and the man who becomes his nemesis, Simon de Montfort. Simon starts life as a unlanded younger son, but by the force of his personality and by wedding Nell, the sister of the king, he becomes one of the most influential barons of the time. Early in Henry's reign it becomes apparent that he is a weak, ineffectual king, capricious in giving out both favors and punishments. Though Simon is loyal to the king, he becomes the head of a movement to impose the Oxford Provisions--one of the earliest efforts to put limits on the king's authority and institute some kind of representational government. King Henry, of course, isn't interested in having his power curbed, and the country is split into civil war.

This is fabulous historical fiction. Penman takes important historical events and makes them come alive. Fascinating characters and interesting descriptions of the time period that are complex and detailed but not overwhelming. The writing is amazing and beautiful.

So why am I conflicted about this book? Oh, the ending. It has earned a spot on Amarjaa's list of Exercises in Futility and Disappointment. For 500 pages I am following the trials of a brave man fighting for a just and righteous cause. COMPLETE SPOILER--Then my hero dies. No, he doesn't just die, he is hacked to little pieces in battle, his head stuck on a pike and his body thrown to dogs. SPOILER OVER. WHAAAA! Okay, I know this is history and history is ugly sometimes. But I was so upset. Maybe if I knew more about English history I wouldn't have been so blindsided by this. I was complaining to Twin and she said, "That title might have tipped you off that this might not end well." Falls the Shadow. Err, right.

So am I going to read the last book in the trilogy? Yes, definitely. At some point. But I'm reading the ending first. I need to be prepared for these things.


Marg said...

Sharon Penman is such a fantastic author, and whilst this wasn't my favourite of the trilogy it was still a fantastic read.

jmc said...

Er, you know that the third book of the trilogy is The Reckoning, a pretty ominous title, right?

Have you tried Penman's The Sun in Splendour? That and Here Be Dragons wrestle for the title of "favorite" -- usually the one I have reread most recently wins.

Jennie said...

Oh, dear. I was worried about the last book in the trilogy. I have a feeling it will sit in the TBR for a while. Though I do want to find out what happens to Llewelyn Jr. and Davydd.

I haven't read Sun in Splendour, which is about Richard the Lionheart, I think? He is fascinating, and I bet Penman does him well.

CindyS said...

And that my friend is why stepping out of my romance reading comfort zone is fiercely frowned upon. And no, I would have had no clue from the title. Unless maybe Simon's name was Shadow but even then - I read the spoiler because I'm so not reading this book but isn't that just over kill?

I'll wait for the movie ;)


nath said...

for her a girl who likes happy ending... no wonder you're conflicted. But yes, you earn extra points ;)