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on May 9, 2016
I enjoyed this book, and the two that follow it, so much I am considering revising some of my other 5 star reviews. Penman's books are so much better written I feel bad giving her the same number as stars.

Things I liked-
I love that she chose an extremely interesting, but not commonly referenced period and place (12th & 13th century Wales and England). God save me from ANOTHER book on the Tudors... I thought my self well read, and well-versed in English history but quickly realized I am neither and appreciated the history lesson in the form of a truly entertaining novel.

Liked the use of period words. Thank goodness for the Kindle edition though, since Penman constantly uses obscure Medieval words (and obscure modern words my hsband did not even know). Although I actually appreciate expanding my vocabulary some people may find it distracting. I also was not bothered by the use of period language as some people were ("mayhap" this and "for certes" that). For me, it makes for a richer more believable novel. I was frankly more distracted with her occasional use of very modern words and analogies since I could not envision the characters speaking that way.

Her research was amazing. I love historical fiction and believe her trilogy to be some of the finest I've ever read. Every time I wondered whether an event really happened and went online to check it out- yep, sure enough it had! Unfortunately I also spoiled the ending of not one, but all three books with my online research since she so closely follows actual events. I came to love some of the characters so much I HAD to know what happened to them. Trust me- don't do that, just read her books.

Could the character development have been better? Possibly, but each book is over 700 pages. She chose to tackle a complex period, with many interesting people involved. I think she did an admirable job of portraying that world and the people in it. Rather than spending hundreds of pages developing a single character she gives us a glimpse into the main characters' background, and let's us infer from the information she provides possibly why they make the decisions they do later on. I think her books are more on the historical side of historical fiction, than the fiction side. By that I mean she seemed more interested in portraying the history, less so in character development, although I personally did not find fault with it.

Length of the books. Normally I'm disappointed in books I love because they are too short. Her are just right- long enough to be very satisfying, but don't drag on for an eternity. (George RR Martin, anyone?)

Things I didn't like-
Haha, can't really think of anything but if I do I'll update my review. I'm reading the trilogy over again so maybe I'll find something. I'm sure my husband would say he's sick of hearing about 12th and 13th century Wales, so I guess there's that. :-)
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on February 18, 2015
I'll always remember the scene in the movie A Man for All Seasons where Sir Thomas Moore, being tried in Henry the Eighth's Star Chamber, confronts the man who betrayed him. Seeing the man's medallion which proclaims him Governor of Wales, he remarks "I can understand a man selling his soul to the devil for possession of the world, but for Wales? This evoked laughter even among Moore's accusers, but the levity didn't help Moore in the end.
In Here Be Dragons, Sharon Kay Penman evokes a Wales that one might indeed be willing to sell one's soul for.
One man who would have sold his soul for Wales is Llewelyn Ab Ioirwerth, Prince of Gwynydd. Having defeated his uncle in a long civil war, and come to power at the age of 21, Llewelyn is determined to unite Wales and to fend off the incursions of the Norman French and stop their encroachments into Wales.
Llewelyn fights his battles on two fronts, the battlefield itself and the diplomatic arena, and he is able and astute at both. To cement an alliance with King John of England, he marries John's illegitimate daughter Joanna.
Penman's book is not only a first rate historical novel, regaling the reader with fascinating historical personalities like Eleanor of Aquitaine, King John of England, Will Marshall, The Earls of Chester and Pembroke, Reginald De Broase, and Llewelyn, but it is also one of the most profound and fascinating love stories you will ever read. Joanna's story is a Cinderella tale of an illegitimate child going from disgrace and poverty to being raised in her father's court and married at age fourteen to a handsome and powerful prince. It is not a "happily ever after" story and Joanna must overcome difficult challenges, not the least of which, is a ten-year-old stepson who hates her. Gruffydd is Llewelyn's son from a long-term relationship he had with his mistress Tengwistle who died in childbirth. Gruffydd wants to be Llewelyn's heir and is mortified when Joanna gives birth to a son, Davydd. Joanna is also torn apart when Llewelyn has a falling out with her father, King John. She arranges a peace between them but it involves Llewelyn humbling himself before King John and giving him hostages, including Gruffydd. The outcome is tragic and casts a long shadow over Joanna and Llewelyn's marriage.
Here Be Dragons is a masterpiece that works marvelously as both historical fiction and romance.
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on August 6, 2016
I've read several of her books and intend to read the rest of the Welsh series. She does keep me fascinated with the main characters, but I do often wonder why she feels the need to mention so many of the very minor characters in such detail. I had to make up my mind early in this book not to worry about keeping track, but to instead just think of them as color and texture to support the main stories, although it can get tedious. It's worth it, though - I've really enjoyed the pleasure of learning so much about those times through the imaginative writing of someone dedicated to maintaining accuracy.
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on August 4, 2013
Beautiful, sweeping, heart-wrenching. Ms. Penman has commented on her love for writing about people who lived unlikely lives and the Welsh Princes trilogy brings this to life with color, depth, great clarity and attention to historical detail. This trilogy has easily become one of my favorite sets of books of all time and completely changed my opinion on historical fiction novels. I found Ms. Penman's devotion to accuracy the most compelling aspect of her work. At the heart of this trilogy is the epic struggle of Middle Ages Wales to have an independence from the English Crown, a dream never realized. During the 12th and 13th centuries this dream was kindled to legendary proportions in the great Welsh princes Llewelyn the Great and his grandson Llewelyn the Last taking the dream to heights never before thought possible, and since has never been renewed. Generally I read mostly non-fiction and have found few novels that really hold my attention and even fewer that I am eager to reread, yet I read 'Here Be Dragons' and promptly started it over again. 'Here Be Dragons' is easily my favorite of the three books, so compelling is the reign of King John and the long shadow he cast over the love story of Joanna and Llewelyn Fawr. The chronicles of history are full of men and women who lived unlikely lives, and Ms. Penman has done a masterful job of bringing to life the highborn men and women of Middle Ages Wales and England.
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on June 7, 2014
Someone asked me a few years ago what book I'd like to be buried with.... odd question I know, but an interesting one. Here Be Dragons is my first and favorite choice.

I've read Here Be Dragons at least once a year for the past 20 years - so often, that my book feel apart and I had to buy a new one.

It is one of the most beautiful love stories I've ever read and it's one of the most interesting historical fictions I've ever read. The combination is a rare find indeed.

I fall in love with Llywelyn every time I read this book. Ms Penman has created a real historical figure who is courageous, valorous, a wonderful leader of men who has the rare ability to laugh at himself.... and he's capable of great love. Oh my, be still my heart.

The book's historical underpinnings are Llywelln's rise to power to become the Prince of Wales and his war with John "Of Evil Fame" who just happens to be his wife's father. We see Eleanor of Aquataine in all her power and John's evolution as the King of England.

The book takes two great stories and makes England's history in the 13th century come alive. I think all of Sharon Kay Penman's books are wonderful (except for the last one "Lion Heart" which has no heart), but Here Be Dragons tops the list. (It could be that it is the only one of her books which has a happy ending.) I really think that George R R Martin took a cue from Penman's historically accurate middle ages and thus felt he had a justifiable historical basis for killing off all his heroes.
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on July 13, 2014
I love well done historical fiction and this series is very well done. I fell in love with the characters and hated others, just as I did in reading their history in my long-ago college years. Even knowing outcomes for the characters, which I convince myself will help me deal with however the author chooses to write about those outcomes, brought tears to my eyes. I will admit, I'm Welsh and will never understand, even after more than 700 years, how the first son of the reigning monarch can be the "Prince of Wales" when he is NOT Welsh, or why on earth Wales is not its own principality, with at least the same distinctions as the further away Scotland; or why on earth England feels they have a right to a slice of Ireland (my Scots-Irish ire is showing), but regardless of my personal bias regarding those issues, I was extremely pleased with how well researched the writing was, how thorough the author was in pointing out those places she took literary license or where there was ambiguity in dates and places. I would highly recommend this series as well written, well researched and with characters well developed and worth knowing. Good work, Ms. Penman!
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on September 13, 2012
I think what I love about Penman's novels (aside from her obvious talent for sentence structure and superior vocabulary) are the many view points and characters who all have so much depth. One characteristic of Penman's novels is occasionally (especially in the beginning) telling a chapter from a view point of a minor, almost insignificant character who is then never featured again. That can be a little misleading but I think it also adds to the dimension of the story. In the beginning, I often felt like as soon as I got interested in one character, it switched to another in the next chapter! But Penman brings her characters to life so effortlessly that the reader can't help but get involved with each one and the complexity of it adds realism to it.

I had expected it to be more of Llewelyn's own story but it was paralleled with John's and Joanna's too, in Penman's style of portraying both sides of the story equally. This meant that as the stories of the three main characters came together to form one main storyline, it became more about the character's relationships with each other and the relationship between Wales and England.

It was a little more romance-y than I expected. I recall there being a romance in "When Christ and His Saints Slept" with a fictional character but it was one of many story lines whereas Joanna and Llewelyn's marriage was the sole focus of the book at times. Still, I would not call it a romance novel, it is so much more than that (no offense romance fans).

Before reading this novel, I didn't know a huge amount about King John and had never even heard of his natural daughter Joanna or Llewelyn the Great. Though I never take fiction as fact (however accurate it may be), this definitely helped familiarize me with the time period and the historical figures involved and I love that. Penman has once again composed an epic classic in this genre, and seemingly so effortlessly (though I'm sure she painstakingly researched it).
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on December 1, 2012
Readers of historical novels frequently complain about the large cast of characters that are typical of these novels, and how hard it is to remember everyone's name.

Yet Sharon Kay Penman manages to make her characters memorable. She does it with a masterful use of point of view. In Here Be Dragons, her fictionalized biography of Llewelyn the Great (c.1173-1240), Ms Penman allows the reader to spend a summer's day with ten-year-old Llewelyn in Chapter One (it is July, 1183).

We do not meet the second protagonist, John, Count of Mortain (1167-1216) until Chapter Three, and then it is through the terrified eyes of a teenaged serving wench who has just been told she has to spend the night with him.

In Chapter Seven we meet the third protagonist, five-year-old Joanna, who is living in modest circumstances with her mother in Yorkshire. Ms. Penman deftly weaves the strands of her narrative together so that we gradually learn that Joanna is the bastard daughter of the Count of Mortain.

Upon Mortain's accession to the throne of England in 1199, as King John, Joanna's status rises. In 1206, at the age of fourteen, she is married off to Prince Llewelyn, the ten-year-old boy we met in Chapter One, now a seasoned fighter aged thirty-three. Ms. Penman uses these plot strands to explore the complex, torturous relationship between King John of England and Prince Llewelyn of Wales. Five stars.
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on May 25, 2015
I adore SKP, but had never even considered that the monsters we so often read about might just be figments of bards' imaginations in the years after their reigns. The recent unearthing of Richard III really brought home this point of view, and I am ever grateful for the work SKP has done to breathe not only life, but realism, and mesmerizing details into people long since past. ( and some completely forgotten) Reading about a true Prince of Wales, and not just a firstborn of England's ruler - seeing Wales through Welsh eyes, was an unforgettable experience.
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on August 19, 2013
After being somewhat sated with Tudor historical fiction, I decided to give this a try as my family is Welsh and I know relatively less about the Middle Ages. I find these reads usually get me interested enough in the real history to delve into more scholarly works. However, this is marred by several points. First, there's a little too much ripping of laces and bodices (if you are going to do this, dear writer, at least put notice on the cover with an appropriately half dressed couple). While written from a feminine perspective, what about other concerns of women of the time such as the omnipresent threat of death in childhood? Second, the language never feels true to itself - the author goes back and forth with long passages stuffed with "mayhap" and "for Ceres," and then throws in terms that originated much later ("self-sabotage"). There's another seen in which a character was eating rice, which would have been unlikely to be eaten in Wales in 1200 as it was not introduced into cultivation in Europe til later. Few writers can write in language that is both understandable to the modern reader yet make it feel not of this time - see Hillary Mantel for brilliant examples of this. Unfortunately this inability to find such a voice greatly diminished my enjoyment of this book
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