Chronological Sharon Kay Penman Books Challenge


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Chronological Sharon Kay Penman Books Challenge

Redigerat: feb 3, 9:32am

On 01/22/2021 the Historical Fiction genre lost a giant when Ms. Penman succumbed to a long illness. In honor of her and her contributions, this will be a place to discuss all of her books, not in order of their publication, but in the order of her books' historical events as they unfolded. Please join us, dedicated fans of old and new, as we embark upon a wonderful reading journey through the Middle Ages. A rate of approximately 200pp/week should take us to the end of Dec. 2021 and to the culmination of a remarkable body of scholarship and storytelling.


The Plantagenets
1101-1154 When Christ And His Saints Slept (Book 1 )
1156-1171 Time And Chance (Book 2)
1172-1189 Devil's Brood (Book 3 End of the Henry &
Eleanor Trilogy)
1174-1180's The Land Beyond the Sea (King Baldwin, Saladin, Knights
Templar, Crusaders)
1189-1192 Lionheart (King Richard Book 4)
1192-1199 A King's Ransom (End of King Richard Book 5)

Justin de Quincy Mysteries Books
1192-1193 The Queen's Man (Book 1)
April-June 1193 Cruel as the Grave (Book 2)
July-Oct 1193 Dragon's Lair (Book 3)
Dec 1193-March 1194 Prince of Darkness (Book 4)

Welsh Trilogy
1183-1232 Here Be Dragons (Vol 1)
1231-1267 Falls The Shadow (Vol 2)
1271-1283 The Reckoning (Vol 3)

Standalone Masterpiece
1459-1492 The Sunne In Splendour (SKP's 1st publication)

From the Penguin Random House Web site:

"As a publisher I have been lucky to be able to visit bookstores all over the country, independent and chain alike. What interests me first about these stores is what titles are being displayed in the ‘Staff Recommends’ section of the store. It is here that you can find treasured, beloved books quite dear to someone who works in the stores, someone waiting quite eagerly for the chance to hand sell their recommended titles.

It is in these Staff Recommend sections that I kept on seeing our Penman’s titles, HERE BE DRAGONS, FALLS THE SHADOW, THE RECKONING and also SUNNE IN SPLENDOUR and WHEN CHRIST AND HIS SAINTS SLEPT. It’s funny, you can sell something for years before you notice that the author has been quietly making a powerful impact on people everywhere.

I started with HERE BE DRAGONS and I have never looked back. Her trilogy of the decline of the Welsh kings ( DRAGON, FALLS THE SHADOW and THE RECKONING)is a holiday gift I give year after year, and I’m happy to say they have always been embraced and loved. From my 15 year old niece to my 70 year old mother and many ages in between, all readers are enchanted and transported to a land and an age gone forever. But Penman makes them live forever in our minds and hearts with fantastic, unforgettable characters and wonderful history. HERE BE DRAGONS is such a great title–medieval mapmakes would write those words across any part of the map that was unknown.. a wonderful metaphor for how little the Welsh and English knew of each other.

SUNNE IN SPLENDOUR–Warning: This is not Shakespeare’s Richard III. In this novel, Richard is a victim of circumstance and man vilified by the Tudors, but here presented as a decent and normal man, a man of conscience. AND he is not a murderer. Yes, those princes did die, but not by Richard’s hand.

WHEN CHRIST AND HIS SAINTS SLEPT Another wonderful title, for it refers to the 15 years of England’s darkest time-the civil war between the cousins Queen Maud and King Steven. England was deserted, for Christ and his saints were sleeping. I had never even heard of these royals. Queen Maud was the legitimate heir to the throne, but a woman, and there fore not fit to rule. She is also the mother of Henry, who later married Eleanor of Aquitaine . Pretty heady stuff, more incredible men and women, another book to get totally lost in.

Although it has been years since all these books were first published, I can name 5 stores I have been in in the past 3 months that have one of these titles in the Staff Recommends section."

-Alice Kesterson, Ballantine Regional Sales Manger

Useful Links:

Wikipedia Page
Author's's Web site
Sharon Kay Penman on Goodreads
Facebook Page
Twitter Hashtag
Amazon Author Page

Redigerat: feb 3, 9:10am

With the ever-evolving strength of the Women's Movement in the 21st century, a look back to one woman's extraordinary pursuit to claim her birthright seems a most relevant starting point. From the back cover of When Christ and His Saints Slept :

"A.D. 1135. As church bells tolled for the death of England's King Henry I, his barons faced the unwelcome prospect of being ruled by a woman: Henry's beautiful daughter Maude, Countess of Anjou. But before Maude could claim her throne, her cousin Stephen seized it. In their long and bitter struggle, all of England bled and burned. Sharon Kay Penman's magnificent fifth novel summons to life a spectacular medieval tragedy whose unfolding breaks the heart even as it prepares the way for splendors to come--the glorious age of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Plantagenets that would soon illumine the world."

And so we begin:

"Never before had there been greater wretchedness in the country.... And they said openly that Christ and his saints slept." - The Peterborough Chronicle

At 770pp, and a rate of approx. 200pp/week, we should complete the first book in this challenge by the end of February.

feb 3, 9:50am

I knew absolutely nothing about Maude, Countess of Anjou, before I'd read When Christ and His Saints Slept. Upon completing this book, I was (and continue to be) mystified as to why she isn't a more famous historical figure. Hers was a truly remarkable life made unforgettable by Ms. Penman's storytelling skills.

Redigerat: feb 4, 8:56am

Really, I never knew there was an earlier civil war in England, tho I do assume brits would know this. brit history for us was usually starts with Vikings, and then HenryII, Then jump to Henry the eigth. so much amazing history there to be discovered. That is what pulled me into her books - reading Here be Dragons - I knew who Eleanor, Richard and John were, but had no idea of their world, and no clue about Wales except there was a prince (no clue about Edward the first). My reading of that trilogy got me reading more of the time period and opened up so much to me. There are so many moments in the book that just called out to be a pivotal scene in a movie! I wonder if any of her books were ever considered?

When I started rereading this book, I balked at all the names all at once and kept having to go back to the family tree, but once I got into it a lot came back to me. Also having read her books have more background to really enjoy this even more now

feb 5, 10:24pm

Each one of her books is fertile ground for about 1/2 dozen movies or the most binge-able HBO/Netflix, etc. series ever.

Yes, on all the eye-opening detailed history, which would've lost me in all its minutiae were it not for her storytelling skills. She's such a natural, and her dialog is authentic without sounding affected.

Cindy, if I don't post much for the rest of the week, it's because I'm trying to get the 400pp read that'll bring me up to snuff on the schedule. I suppose I could just skim and jump around, having read it twice before, but that'd be cheating. Plus, it's been about 4 yrs since my last read.

feb 10, 11:11pm

Distracted/interrupted by doctor app'ts, but I'm making progress.

One thing that's coming back to me: how very likable Stephen was before all the skullduggery began. I also wanted to comment on Penman's major fictional creation in this book: Ranulf. It's a device that usually never works (when the fictional characters are allotted so much of the story), and very often annoys the heck out of me. Honestly? I tend to skim over those sections with most authors. But Penman's creations are brilliantly authentic and always, *always* pertinent. The reader can't imagine the stories without them. I remember becoming as invested in Ranulf as I was in Maude and Robert.

feb 11, 11:59am

>6 Pat_D: NP I do admit to doing some cheating, just because I will remember a scene, need to read it now, and then satisfied, gone back to where I ended (case in point, Eustaces horrifying and satisfying end. Thought of the Purple Wedding)

>7 Pat_D: I agree, esp once Rhainon is introduced; what, a blind woman in that time, being a main character of a book? Thought it was a lovely and well written inclusion. Agree with you about how likable Stephen was, and still was if you look at what happen with the young Wm Marshall; his son Eutace practically disowned him for that. and in the end that likability is what perhaps drove him to the conclusion.

feb 11, 3:57pm

I wager that some readers will find Rhianon's storyline unbelievable. But those who know the years and years of research and scholarship Ms. Penman devoted to the Welsh and Celts will find it completely in line with an ancient culture that was fundamentally matriarchal.

feb 11, 8:40pm

Children born or become disabled in any society of the time might be left for dead or given to the church, if not cared for at home, but she was born in a place that allowed girls to learn. That did make all the difference. I also found her development as a person who becomes blind very realistic in our world today, as are the comments of the people around her

Redigerat: feb 19, 12:48am

So, a little over 2 weeks into this read should bring me to approximately the 400pp mark as scheduled. Perhaps by Friday, we can summarize a timeline up to that point.

I forgot my emotional reaction to Maude's sad epiphany. After all the subterfuge, betrayals, suffering, battles, heart-stopping escapes, and terrible losses she finally acquiesced to the fact she will never wear the Crown of England, despite her rightful claim to it.


"Robert." Her mouth was suddenly dry. "I am never going to be queen, am I?"

"No," he said quietly, "you are not...."

She averted her face, briefly, and he, too, looked away, not willing to watch the death of a dream....

"Maude." She turned back to face him, slowly, and he said, "You are not giving up?"

"You know better than that, Robert. I may have lost, but I'll not let Henry lose, too. I shall fight for my son as long as I have breath in my body. He must not be cheated of the crown that is his birthright."

She saw sympathy in his eyes, and what mattered more, respect. "I will do whatever I can," he vowed, "to make sure that does not happen." And in that moment, she realized the truth-that he'd been fighting for Henry all along.

~ p345-346 Kindle version

Redigerat: feb 27, 3:34am

Not many takers on this challenge, I see. It's a massive read, so I'm not surprised. I stopped committing to group readings because I, too, seem to have an inherent aversion to reading on a mandated timeline. I had my fill of that after so many years of college and boards.

But I'm not throwing in the towel. I didn't expect to enjoy my 3rd go 'round of these books as much as I am, so I'll continue on and post at my own pace. I'm about 3/4 through WCaHSS. Ranulf is recovering from his injuries in Wales among his newly discovered Welsh tribe, and after the heartbreaking death of Robert, Maude escapes England for the last time. Making another incomprehensible blunder, Stephen's humiliation of Chester has set the latter on a path of revenge. Maude's marriage to Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, after a couple of turbulent and absent decades, has fallen into a resigned truce. Their eldest son, Henry II (and soon-to-be second husband of Eleanor), is now 14 y/o and determined to win his (and his mother's) English crown back. The French king, Louis VII, has gone on crusade and all of Europe is abuzz that his scandalous and beautiful Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine has accompanied him.

There's a mess of great historical characters in this book, but Robert, Earl of Gloucester, left the most indelible mark on me. He was one of King Henry the First's approximately 20 bastards-born, so he could never inherit the crown, however, of all of Henry's children, I think Robert would've made the best King. The section where Robert finally loses his cool with Maude's self-pity party and speaks to the injustice he's endured all the years he stayed loyal to Maude is one of my favorite parts of the book.

Redigerat: feb 27, 4:18am

“You think I do not know that? When has life ever been fair to women? Just think upon how easy it was for Stephen to steal my crown, and how bitter and bloody has been my struggle to win it back. Even after we’d caged Stephen at Bristol Castle, he was still a rival, still a threat…and why? Because he was so much braver or more clever or capable than me? No…because I was a woman, for it always came back to that. I’ll not deny that I made mistakes, but you do not know what it is like, Robert, to be judged so unfairly, to be rejected not for what you’ve done but for what you are. It is a poison that seeps into the soul, that makes you half crazed with the need to prove yourself…”

She stopped to catch her breath, and only then did she see the look on Robert’s face, one of disbelief and then utter and overwhelming fury, burning as hot as her own anger, hotter even, for being so long suppressed.

“I do not know what it is like?” he said incredulously. “I was our father’s firstborn son, but was I his heir? No, I was just his bastard. He trusted me and relied upon me and needed me. But none of that mattered, not even after the White Ship sank and he lost his only lawfully begotten son. He was so desperate to have an heir of his body that he dragged you back—unwilling—from Germany, forced you into a marriage that he knew was doomed, and then risked rebellion by ramming you down the throats of his barons. And all the while, he had a son capable of ruling after him—he had me! But I was the son born of his sin, so I was not worthy to be king. As if I could have blundered any worse than you and Stephen."

~ p343 (Kindle version)

Redigerat: feb 27, 9:26am

Without christianities power, things would have been quite different I think. Powerful reading

Yeah its a big read, not surprised, tho there probably are lurkers about (might change once we start up on the welsh trilogy) I plan on carrying on. The last two hundred pages are all Henry and Eleanor which is always fun. I have wondered before that Eleanor was always popular and Maude not. They were both beauties, and strong women. Their conversation in the book seemed too easy, I think there would have been more rancor. But they both loved Henry, fiercly. Which probably made the relationship easier.

Redigerat: feb 28, 8:31am

Although Eleanor had to fight for her rightfully inherited title and lands as did Maude, due to her gender, she had the very good luck of being born into a French culture that seemed to bask in its Royals' immorality. Eleanor thumbed her nose at sexual constrictions, while Maude's independent nature never crossed English traditional roles of daughter, wife & mother.

I've read a lot of depictions and reimaginings of Eleanor's life, but Penman's remains my favorite. I thoroughly enjoyed those very early and exciting years of the young Henry and Eleanor. The latter years, with all the subterfuge of their sons, is absolutely heartbreaking.

While Eleanor remains the most infamous and heralded of the two, that snowy, nighttime escape down the castle walls, through six miles of barely visible countryside and across an unusually frozen Thames River by Maude overshadows anything Eleanor did, IMO. It would make such a terrific cinematic moment, and it's absolutely riveting in Penman's hands.

feb 28, 11:43am

You might be right, Cindy. Although we're beginning with the book that contains the earliest historical events, it was not Penman's first published book. Most came to know her through the Welsh Trilogy, so maybe participation will pick up when we get to those.

mar 1, 3:48pm

as I did; I like this chronological reading, esp knowing the characters, and being able to follow their time line

While Eleanor remains the most infamous and heralded of the two, that snowy, nighttime escape down the castle walls, through six miles of barely visible countryside and across an unusually frozen Thames River by Maude overshadows anything Eleanor did, IMO. It would make such a terrific cinematic moment, and it's absolutely riveting in Penman's hands.

Totally agree! If she wasn't the author of this, I'd assume this was some made up way to sole her escape, but of course it really happened. I agree - really, producers don't know what they are missing!

Knowing how little Americans know their own history let alone other countries, has this conflict appeared on screen in some form in Britain? Everything jumps from Norman Invasion directly to the War of the Roses and the Tudors with little in between (well there is Becket and Lion in winter and Man for all Seasons. )

Im actually reading another book right now, Bring Up The Bodies for the Mantel trilogy book group here. I read a bit of Penman, a bit of Mantel; interesting to compare their stories and writing. ,am in awe that these two authors could make this all come to life, four hundred years apart.

mar 2, 12:13pm

The first time I read WCaHSS, I just assumed that escape was a fictional element conjured up by Penman. I don't know why I eventually Googled it, but I was stunned to read it really happened. It was incredibly daring and its success depended on so much that was just random luck. It's too bad Maude couldn't have been that lucky in winning her Crown back.

mar 3, 7:07pm

I know; think she needed more than luck. I think people of her time thought her too agressive and determined (gee, times haven't changed). Fortunately she surrounded herself with good people, and couldnt get passed the mores of her time (again, not much change).

Reading Time and Chance, had forgotten about Becket and how important he was to Henry. I like the addition of a fictional Raulf, stuck between two loyaties.

Also reading The corner that held them. read her lolly willows and loved it This is a very different type of book, in between the other two time wise but different pacing and focus. Reminds me of Marilyn Robinson

mar 4, 2:29pm

>19 cindydavid4: Argh. Another book added to my humongous wish list. That looks good, Cindy.

mar 15, 10:31pm

Finished T&C tho to be fair skipped quite a bit of the Henry Becket saga. Gave full attention to it with the 'will no one rid me of this priest' and the aftermath. A couple of thoughts, both comparisons with Wolf Hall trilogy. Given how much trouble the church gave him, I really am surprised that a 'cromwell' hadn't thought about separating, way back before it really happened. and oh darn cant remember the second thing.

I don't remember reading about the massacre of Hywell and his brothers, and wonder that David and Rhodri were not punished. Owain was grandfather to Llywellen Fawr, and read a bit about his life.

Ive got several books right now in the reading fire so to speak, not sure when I'll start Devils Brood, but remember really liking i.

Redigerat: mar 15, 10:56pm

Just read this: Upon the death of Owain Gwynedd in 1170, his sons fell into dispute over lordship of Gwynedd. Together, Dafydd and Rhodri attacked and killed their brother Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd that same year. Dafydd drove out Maelgwn in 1173, sending him fleeing to Ireland. Other brothers, Iorwerth Drwyndwn and Cynan ab Owain Gwynedd, were killed in 1174, removing two more contenders for the throne. The same year Dafydd captured and imprisoned his brothers Maelgwn (who had returned from Ireland) and Rhodri. He was now sole ruler of Gwynedd, and that same year he married Emme (or Emme) of Anjou, the half-sister of King Henry II of England, in summer 1174. Emme was an illegitimate daughter of Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou

So thats where John got the idea of Joanna and Llewlyn.

Redigerat: jun 15, 7:27am

I have completed:
When Christ And His Saints Slept
Time And Chance
Devil's Brood
The Land Beyond the Sea (which I did not care for)

I am currently reading Lionheart. I'm about 50% finished and it is starting to bog down with the plans to take Jerusalem. (which is why I did not care so much for The Land Beyond the Sea).

Following Lionheart I will begin the Welsh trilogies.

>21 cindydavid4: I, also, did not realize the depth and scope of the relationship between Henry II and Beckett. I read the Maurice Druon series, but he portrayed more of just strictly a business relationship.

jun 15, 11:31am

Actually I liked Lionheart, because it shows what was happening between the crusaders and Saladin's forces, as well as a different take on Richards relationship with his wife. People often dismiss her as a distant person who was not in his life and apparently that wasn't true at all.

I have tried to read TLBS but it bogs down way to early for me. I think Sharon had done so much research that she wanted it all to go in, and it ust doesn't work.

Tess, plan to have lots of kleenex around for that trilogy esp the last book. But they are excellent to read, and planned to reread them this summer

jun 18, 5:27pm

I wasn't thrilled with my first reading of TLBS, but then I rewatched Ridley Scott's cinematic depiction of the knight Balian d’Ibeli's, King Baldwin IV's, and Salah ad-Din's battle for Jeruselum, Kingdom of Heaven. Then I reread TLBS. For me, TLBS turned out to be a wonderfully researched companion to the movie.

All that said, The Sunne in Splendour and the Welsh Trilogy remain my favorites. I've already done one chronological reading of Penman's books, and since there doesn't seem to be much interest in this reading challenge, I think I'll go straight to Here Be Dragons.

jun 18, 9:06pm

oh thanks for that, I'll definitly be watching Kingdom of Heaven, in hopes that it will help me through the book

Taking the welsh trilogies to the beach with me, get out of the heat and into another world