"This is Simon de Montfort's story--and the story of King Henry III, as weak and changeable as Montfort was brash and unbending. It is a saga of two opposing wills that would later clash in a storm of violence and betrayal, a story straight from the pages of history that brings the world of the thirteenth century comletely, provocatively, and magnificently alive. Above all, this is a story of conflict and treachery, of human frailty and broken legends, a tale of pageantry and grandeur that is as unforgettable as it is real."
I'm not sure how I feel about posting about sequels to books for which I've already posted. I guess we'll see. I'm also not sure how I feel about Falls the Shadow either, so grab a glass, ambivalence all around!
Penman is a master at what she does, and I won't really go into that again here. She uses the same episodic style in this as she did for Here Be Dragons, and it worked with that same efficiency. Unfortunately, this book came up severely lacking in what will henceforth be known as the King John Department. There were no characters here that really grabbed me and held on until the end, as he did. Ellen ferch Llewellyn did for a bit as did her brother Daffyd, but neither featured in even the full first half of the novel. After that, Wales took a clear backseat to the action happening in England and my interest suffered for it. I think perhaps I was meant to latch on to Nell or Simon de Montfort at some point, but I just couldn't. There is nothing wrong with them, but then maybe that's the problem, not enough weakness for my sympathy? I don't really know. All I do know is that I felt for the entire last half of the novel that we were approaching doom and I didn't have a character to hold my hand through it. I had no Joanna to root for. No romance with Llewellyn Fawr cheer on. Nothing but a doomed, if just, cause and a white knight to fight for it.
It's possible the doom bit was my real issue with this novel. Penman paints a clear good v. bad picture in this one, with far less subtlety than in the former novel, and the whole time you know team good is going to get its little fanny kicked. And there is nothing you can do about it. King Henry is a dribbling fool, but he'll win. And unlike his father KJ (Do you mind if I call him KJ? I feel we've reached this point in our relationship.), he isn't an interesting villain. You don't care about him at all. You hate him. He's a fool and a weakling and entirely without redeeming qualities. KJ was the spawn of the devil, but at least he was clever and you respected him even while you hated him. I'm hoping Edward can bring a little more nuance to the "Evil English King" role in the third novel. Hints of his being KJ's grandson in various ways have been dropped along the way, so we'll see.
Honestly, it took me a while to finish this one because I knew the good guys would loose and the closer that loss came the harder it was for me to go on reading it. In the end, Penman let her characters sign off with dignity and humanity, so it was worth forcing myself to keep going. I'm not sure I'm ready for the third one, though. I also feel that Llewellyn is a stranger now. I knew him as a small boy, and a bit as a young man, but then he sort of...faded away. Here's hoping when we meet again in the last installment he'll have lived up to my earlier memories of him.
Rating: Three KJs.