Book Review: “The Sunne in Splendour” by Sharon Kay Penman

1321064._SY475_A banner decorated with three suns flaps in the wind on the field of battle. The young man behind this emblem is Edward, Earl of March, whose father Richard Duke of York and brother Edmund Earl of Rutland were tragically slain at the Battle of Wakefield. His younger brothers, George Duke of Clarence and Richard Duke of Gloucester, will help Edward carry their father’s cause for the family of York to rule England. When loyalty is questioned even among family members, only one man would truly stand behind Edward until the bitter end. That man would be Richard Duke of Gloucester, or as we know him today, the much-maligned King Richard III. He is often viewed as a treacherous child-killer who coveted the throne after Edward IV’s death, but is that accurately portraying the last Plantagenet king? Who was the real King Richard III? In her magnum opus, “The Sunne in Splendour,” Sharon Kay Penman presents her case for Richard III as a man betrayed, both in life and after his death.

I want to thank everyone who has recommended this book to me in the past. I know that Sharon Kay Penman recently passed away, and I felt that the only way to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth Field this year was to read this novel. I knew that it was well beloved in the Ricardian and the Wars of the Roses communities, so I wanted to see what made this novel so memorable.

Penman chooses to tell this story through multiple points of view, which, contrary to popular belief, works cohesively and allows each character to have their voice. We are introduced to Richard as a young boy before his father and Edmund die in battle. He is a timid child who witnesses death and destruction all around him and is trying to process everything. We see him grow from a scared child to a warrior duke and later into a king who had to deal with betrayal and heartache around every corner.

What Penman does brilliantly is how she writes her characters to make them so realistic that you forget that you are reading a novel. She fleshes out the conflicts exceptionally well, like the struggle between the brother Richard, George Duke of Clarence, and Edward IV. The love between Richard and his bride Anne Neville is pure and wholesome. The loyalty between Richard and Edward IV and towards Edward’s children, especially the princes in the tower is undeniable. Then there is the tension between the brothers and their cousin Richard Earl of Warwick trying to establish this new York dynasty. And what would a series of wars be without those fighting to keep their rule, which was the Lancastrians led by the ferocious Margaret of Anjou. It felt like I was being introduced to a new side of the Yorkist cause when I read this novel.

The action scenes are intense, and the betrayals hit harder than what you usually read in nonfiction books about the Wars of the Roses. This novel is truly a love letter to this period and a brilliant work of literature. I am not sure why I waited so long to read this masterpiece, but I am glad I finally read it. If you want an exceptional novel about the Wars of the Roses and Richard III, “The Sunne in Splendour” by Sharon Kay Penman is a must-read.

Book Review: “Princess of Thorns” by Saga Hillbom

55613765 (1)The year 1483 proved to be a pinnacle point of change for the short-lived Yorkist dynasty. After finally defeating the Lancastrian army, King Edward IV and his family bring peace and order to England, but even their happiness cannot last as King Edward IV dies unexpectedly on April 9, 1483. A power struggle ensues between Richard Duke of Gloucester and Elizabeth Woodville over who should be King of England. Most of Elizabeth Woodville’s children side with her, but there is one child who is staunchly loyal to the Yorkist cause and her uncle Richard; Cecily of York. In her latest novel, “Princess of Thorns”, Saga Hillbom tells the heartbreaking tale of Cecily of York showing how deep her loyalty to her family was and how loyalty came with a cost.

I would like to thank Saga Hillbom for sending me a copy of her latest novel. This is the first novel by Saga Hillbom that I have read. When I heard that this novel was going to be about Cecily of York, I was intrigued since I have never read any novels where Cecily was the protagonist.

As the third daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, Cecily of York can be the vivacious white rose of York, without the pressures that her brothers and her eldest sister have on their shoulders of one-day ruling a country. She can observe life at court while waiting for the day when she is married to a nobleman who shares her Yorkist views. However, that wish she has for her life comes crashing down when her father dies and her brothers, known in history as the Princes in the Tower, go missing. Cecily’s beloved uncle Richard becomes King Richard III, which causes Cecily’s mother Elizabeth Woodville to side with her once mortal enemy, Margaret Beaufort, and her son Henry Tudor.

After the Battle of Bosworth Field and Henry Tudor becomes King Henry VII, the remnants of the Yorkist cause slowly accept the Tudor dynasty. All except Cecily, who believes that Henry VII is a false king. We see Cecily go from a spoiled Yorkist princess to a woman who will fight for what she believes in and will never back down from an argument, even if she is arguing with the King of England himself. Along the way, she does marry and have her children, but even in her happiest moments, Cecily experiences tragic losses that will shape her future.

I usually don’t read many novels that side with the Yorkists, but this book was different. There was something about Cecily’s story that I found compelling. Her love and her loyalty to her family was her sword and shield as she waged war with life. Hillbom does repeat some of the old myths about the people that are central to this novel. I also wish Hillbom gave her readers more detailed descriptions of locations to give us a fully immersive experience.

I think this was a fine novel about the life of Cecily of York. Hillbom’s creative writing style allows the audience, whether Yorkist or Lancastrian in beliefs, to feel sympathy for Cecily and her life. This was an engaging and heartbreaking look at how the end of the Wars of the Roses was not the brilliant introduction of a period of peace that the Tudors often portrayed. There were still those who dealt with the pain of the end of a dynasty. If you are interested in a novel that focuses on one of the Yorkist princesses who does not get a lot of attention, Cecily of York, check out “Princess of Thorns” by Saga Hillbom.