Sister of the Lionheart

Written by Hilary Benford
Review by Ilysa Magnus

Joanna is the youngest child of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. We meet her at a young age in this first volume of Benford’s series and follow her adventures from the courts of England and France, to her marriage to King William the Good of Sicily, and then to her departure on Crusade with her intended future sister-in-law, Berengaria of Navarre.

Joanna is a feisty girl, young woman, and queen, constantly questioning the societal precepts and sexual stereotypes of her day, much in the fashion of her inimitable and much-admired mother, Eleanor. From challenging the court at nine years of age to a discussion about courtly love, to demanding of her father that she marry a young, handsome, French-speaking King, Joanna is—as she tells William—a true descendant of the Vikings. She travels to a new and strange land and wants to learn and know as much as she can about the kingdom she will rule. When Joanna learns that her husband possesses a harem, she will have none of that, and she confronts him, winning his loyalty and admiration. After William’s death, Joanna’s refusal to capitulate to the usurper Tancred is the stuff of legend.

Chock full of historical events and people about which much has already been written, what makes this particular Plantagenet novel so appealing and readable is Benford’s ability to create a believable, lovable and altogether dynamic character in Joanna. She is the glue that holds this marvelous, oft-told story together, this time from a new perspective. Joanna’s adoration of Richard and her love for her friend, Adele, and her nurse, Nounou, make her undeniably human and accessible while altogether compelling. I am waiting (impatiently) for the next Joanna book and highly recommend this installment.