A King’s Ransom

Written by Sharon Kay Penman
Review by Tamela McCann

Historical fiction can be a tricky genre to write and read because many times we know how the story is going to end. If the author is diligent, however, that is no impediment because the story becomes less about the destination than the journey. Sharon Kay Penman knows this, and nowhere is it more evident than in her brilliant final novel of the Angevins, A King’s Ransom.

Told from multiple viewpoints, A King’s Ransom is ultimately the story of Richard I’s imprisonment at the hands of the German Heinrich and the years following his release. Richard’s time as a prisoner is fraught with worry, demands, and fear, and once he regains his freedom, he spends his remaining days trying to recapture the lands and loyalties lost to France during his unwelcome custody. Richard’s arrogance and brilliance drive his actions, and he is proven to be his parents’ son as he re-establishes himself as king.

As much as this novel is Richard’s, it is also the story of his mother Eleanor’s fears for both her sons, his brother John’s attempts to gain power, and his sister Joanna’s support amid the chaotic, turbulent family. Filled with familiar faces such as William Marshal and Queen Berengaria, the story is balanced well by the appearance of fictional characters such as Welsh cousin Morgan and even Justin de Quincy.

Now back to the one problem with A King’s Ransom: It being historical fiction, I knew how it was going to end. I found that I had to push myself to get through the emotional ending, not wanting history to continue to its unflinching conclusion. Yet I was rewarded with perhaps one of the sweetest epilogues ever when I did finish. Breathtaking and riveting, this is how historical fiction is supposed to be done. Highly recommended.