Thursday, April 26, 2018

Here Be Dragons

Here Be Dragons. Sharon Kay Penman. 1985. 704 pages. [Source: Borrowed]
Shropshire, England
July 1183
He was ten years old and an alien in an unfriendly land, made an unwilling exile by his mother's marriage to a Marcher border lord. His new stepfather seemed a kindly man, but he was not of Llewelyn's blood, not one of the Cymry, and each dawning day in Shropshire only intensified Llewelyn's heartsick longing for his homeland. 
Premise/plot: Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman is a historical romance novel set in thirteenth century England starring King John's illegitimate (but claimed) daughter Joanna. When she's still practically a child--fourteen, I believe--her father arranges her marriage to a Welsh prince--the strongest political/military leader in Wales. His name is Llewelyn. Will it be a love match? Yes.

But being together--staying together--will bring challenges. One of the biggest threats to their marriage? The fact that her father is King John. Llewelyn and John's "alliance" doesn't last long. These two will wage war upon one another relentlessly. Joanna often feels forced to choose between her husband and children and her father.

King John is....well, most people in the novel don't have a hard time describing him as despicable, wicked, cruel. Joanna, well, she has seen another side of him. And she wants there to be some good within him. But is there?

Another huge challenge to overcome is Llewelyn's (illegitimate but) firstborn son, Gruffydd. Joanna tries really hard--especially when Gruffydd is a young child--to get along with her stepson. But he is angry all the time, resentful of her presence.

My thoughts: I enjoyed reading this one! Is it historical fiction or historical romance? It offers more than just romance. It follows politics and warfare in England and Wales during this time.

The book also examines the rights or lack of rights of women. Welsh women had more rights than Norman women, for example.

Marriages were arranged, for the most part, and brides were sometimes super-young. As in married at ten, twelve, or fourteen. (In the case of the ten year old, I believe readers are assured that the marriage was not consummated until she was fourteen or fifteen.) John's bride, Isabella, was thirteen or fourteen. He did not wait for her to grow up any which makes for some awkward seduction scenes early in the novel.

But it is clearly also a romance. The 'romance' between Llewelyn and Joanna is the main story line. Of course, it's not a traditional romance novel in that all of the romance occurs after the wedding. These two didn't meet, I believe, until their wedding. Is it smutty? Yes. To a certain degree. A few scenes here and there. But in a novel this large, the percentage of smut is small and not overwhelming.

There is an author's note to clarify for readers which characters are real (real historical figures) and which are fictional. All of the main characters and many of the minor ones were real.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Joy Weese Moll said...

That sounds like a fascinating story. I'd learn quite a bit of history since I'm not familiar with that period except for the bits and pieces that show up in Robin Hood re-tellings.

Cee Arr @ Dora Reads said...

I didn't realise that Sharon Penman had written about Llywelyn (I'm assuming, from the time period, that it's Llewelyn Fawr/Llywelyn ap Iorweth, rather than Llewelyn Llyw Olaf/Llywelyn ap Grufydd) - I'll have to add it to my TBR! :)