Sharon Kay Penman is a giant in the world of historical fiction. She is extremely prolific, having published thirteen books since her debut novel, The Sunne In Splendour in 1982. She is known for the detail of her research and the close attention to historic and character details that have been documented, as she develops her plots and introduces and develops the characters in her novels.
I became a fan when I read her Welsh Trilogy, a detailed story of the Welsh princes that tried in vain to keep Welsh autonomy at a time when the English King Henry III was trying to bring all of Wales under the control of England. I was struck by Penman's ability to weave engaging stories from the bare bones of historic fact about conquests, political maneuverings, and battles and political intrigue. She kept to historic fact while introducing life events that made characters more real, more human, and less iconic.
So, here I am at the end of the summer, wrapped up in the story of Richard the Lionhearted's crusade to save the Holy City from the infidels in the third crusade. It's all rough and tumble medieval warfare, political wrangling, and just a wee bit of romance, as Richard stops in Sicily to wait for his mother to deliver him a Spanish noblewoman , Berenguela of Navarre, who became his bride and queen. The political shenanigans that occur between the French King Phillip II (a Capet) and Richard, the various 'kings' of the islands of Sicily, Cyprus, and city-states in the Middle East (Acre, Jaffa, and Tyre), the Muslim emirs and sultans, and the various lords and noblemen within Richard's traveling army and court keep any reader of Penman constantly on their toes. I happen to love figuring out all the connections and familial and political ties. Others may feel there are too many mental gymnastics involved.
If, however, the medieval period is your cup of tea, I can heartily recommend Penman for her high quality stories! I know that when I finish Lionheart, I'll be champing at the bit to carry on with the saga of Richard's later life in her latest novel, A King's Ransom. It takes up Richard's life when he is captured and held ransom in Germany while on his way back from the Crusades, his later life with Berenguela, and his feuding with John, his infamous brother.
Oh, the life of the royals!