Lionheart, by Sharon Kay Penman. Penguin Putnam (New York, 2011). $28.95, 608 pp., HB.
Historical fiction is presented at its best in Sharon Kay Penman’s novel Lionheart. Penman narrates the story of the great medieval warrior–king of England who inherits the throne after the death of his older brother Hal (Henry) and spends most of his time defending his property in France or crusading in the Holy Land.
Richard’s father, Henry II (remembered for his involvement in the death of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral and for keeping his wife under house arrest for 15 years), and his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine (one of the most powerful women in history and former spouse of Louis Capet, king of France), are presented by Penman in The Devil’s Brood (reviewed in this column August 2011). Lionheart picks up where The Devil’s Brood ends. In her author’s note in Lionheart, Penman writes that the forthcoming A King’s Ransom, the third book in her series, “will also be [her] final farewell to the Angevins, surely one of history’s most dysfunctional and fascinating families.”
To make reading the tome easier, Penman provides a cast of characters as of 1189, divided among the royal houses of England and the places to which Richard travels: Sicily, Cyprus, and Outremer, the name used for the Holy Land. Also presented are the chief Saracens (Turks, Muslims) along with the primary Crusaders accompanying Richard and Philippe II of France, a reluctant Crusader if ever there was one.
The goal of the third crusade, led by Richard the Lionheart, was to free Jerusalem from the Saracens. The novel opens with a shipwreck in July 1189 off the coast of Sicily at Messina. The reader is introduced to Alicia, sister of Arnaud, a Knight Templar, returning to Outremer to continue the fight to free the Holy Land. Arnaud dies in the shipwreck, but his sister is rescued and nursed to health by Abbess Blanche from the convent of Santa Maria della Valle.
The ruler of Sicily, William II de Hauteville, is married to Joanna, a sister of Richard Coeur de Lion, who takes her to their court in Palermo, where she becomes conflicted as she witnesses the peaceful, intertwined lives of Christians and Muslims on Sicily. However, William II de Hauteville dies in November 1189.
The peace of Sicily is suddenly over, however, as two heirs to the throne begin politicking for the position. Like her mother before her, Joanna is put under house arrest by Tancred, the illegitimate cousin of William, who becomes king. This sets the stage for Richard to prepare an army to launch a crusade to the Holy Land with a stop in Sicily to deal with Tancred and free his sister.
The rest of Penman’s novel deals with Richard’s and Philippe’s constant disagreements, Richard’s conquest of Sicily and Cyprus, his campaigns in the Holy Land, and his marriage to Berengaria, daughter of Sancho VI, King of Navarre, Spain. The book concludes with Richard’s departure from Acre in October 1192, heading back to England and his lands in France to see what trouble Philippe has created for him.
Michael Patella has written an interesting 186-page work titled Angels and Demons (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2012). Subtitled A Christian Primer of the Spiritual World, the book attempts to correct the presentation of angels and demons in the popular media. “Highly entertaining for a great many people,” writes Patella, “these accounts vary in levels of accuracy in their presentations of Christianity.” Patella divides his book into three sections. In the first part, he presents a general exegesis of both the Old Testament and New Testament and their treatment of angels, demons and the spiritual world in general. Part two is an overview of the angelic realm, with a discussion on souls, social justice, purgatory and eternal life. The diabolical world is the subject of part three, specifically Satan, Lucifer, the devil, evil spirits, the occult, exorcism, etc. TP