Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book Review: The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman



Available @
Fishpond AU
& Amazon
This book covers the lives of Edward IV and his brother, Richard III. Written from a very sympathetic viewpoint of Richard III, it is highly detailed and covers the period from Richard aged 10, to the instigation of the Tudor dynasty after his death.

For me, this book brought to life kings, queens and other royalty in a way I never knew possible. When one reads the plain factual history of monarchs, they always come across as greedy, villainous, heartless, careless individuals. Usually one cannot begin to fathom the motives behind their actions, and we tend to conclude they were all full of their own importance, believing they could do exactly what they liked. Perhaps this is true for some, but surely not for all.

"The Sunne in Splendour" convincingly developed characters for these historical figures, breathing life, reason and mortality into these long passed monarchs. For the first time, I could empathise with their plights and pity them in the difficult choices they made. Dare I say it, I even came to like them.

I liked both Edward and Richard, but for completely different reasons. Edward's charm, confidence and composure made him alluring like a modern day movie star. His competence and supremacy in the battlefield made him the manly-man. As king, he evokes awe, but in the end his fallibilty is evident and the illusion - althought not shattered - is dimminished.

Richard on the other hand is loyal, loving and lasting. As a woman, there is nothing more appealing, seductive or emotive as a man who loves and is devoted to but one woman. His incessant acts to desperately be able to marry his love, Anne, are nothing short of heart-stopping. Their romance lingers long in the reader's reveries.

What also contributes to his character is his devotion and loyalty to his brother Edward. Due to the way in which Edward's character is portrayed in the book, the fact that he has high respect and trust for Richard shows Richard in a highly favourable light.

Reading this as one in knowledge of the fates of the central characters, I was torn between the grief of knowing the end, and fanciful hope that perhaps it will not be true. The confident and successful reign of King Edward IV leaves King Richard a sure mess to deal with. One can't help but cry out at the unfairness dealt to Richard in the end.

Another aspect of medieval rule that this book enlightened me of is that of the constant beheadings of illustrious men. It brought me to realise that in most cases it was necessary to keep the throne safe - and indeed, the monarch's own life safe. That said, from a different angle one could conclude that ultimately the monarchy are just ordinary families squabling over the throne at the expense of loyal aristocracy - and themselves.

In light of this, the author protrays the plight of Richard that much more tragic. For not only was he forced into this game by the legacy that Edward left, but he desired and attempted to correct it. In turn, fate dealt him a very cruel hand. But after knowing the history of the fights over the throne, the murders, intrigues and debaucheries that went along with it, I am left wondering if Richard suffered for the sins of the family. Certainly this pity was what the author intended to evoke in her readers, and I believe she was very succesful in achieving it.

"The Sunne in Splendour" has thrilled me in battle, filled me with love, and sorrowed me in loss. A must read for historical fiction readers with a weakness for romance, and anyone else interested in vivid characters with brilliant emotions. It will haunt you with it's emotions like a long time cherished memory.

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