It is 1193. Richard, King of England, is being held prisoner by the Holy Roman Emperor, leaving his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, to come up with the ransom to free him. When Queen Eleanor receives word that part of the ransom has gone missing in Wales, she sends her trusted man, Justin de Quincy, on a mission to recover it. De Quincy, the unacknowledged bastard son of the Bishop of Chester, heads directly into the dragon’s lair of Wales to find the culprit. Here, he discovers suspects aplenty, all powerful men whom it would unwise to cross. Among them are Welsh prince Davydd ap Owain, Davydd’s rebel nephew Llewelyn ab Iowerth, and Prince John, King Richard’s hardly devoted brother.
The highest compliment I can give this novel is that the mystery is intimately entwined with the history of the period; solving it would be impossible without detailed knowledge of the political players involved. Fortunately, Justin’s up to the task, and Penman’s sharp characterization and detailed plotting make it easy for unfamiliar readers to figure out who’s who. It is also a pleasure to see a younger Llewelyn, the hero of Penman’s novel Here Be Dragons, through the author’s eyes. A fun and entertaining read.