Penman is a master of the historical fiction genre and a grand mistress at drawing readers into richly detailed, fascinating historical events. Best of all is her ability for bringing historical personages to full-blooded life with plots brimming over with family strife, political intrigues, treachery, betrayal, loyalty and passion set against a colorful backdrop.
Richard’s first act as king of England is to ally with France and organize the third Crusade to regain Outremer, the Holy Land. But first he must go to Sicily to rescue his sister Joanna from imprisonment and then on to Cyprus where he marries Berengaria of Navarre. Both women accompany him as he leads the troops on the Crusade. As he strives to capture the Holy City he faces more obstacles and internal strife from his allies than from the Saracen leader, Saladin. It is intriguing that Richard and Saladin develop a grudging respect for one another as strategic commanders and men. As he continues to win battles and move closer to Jerusalem he hears of his brother John’s actions to claim the throne in England. Does he make peace with the Saracens to return home before entering the Holy City or does he continue to fight onward towards Jerusalem? (PUTNAM, Oct., 608 pp., $28.95)