Idolised by the Victorians as the perfect leader, this story about Richard the Lionheart is a change for Ben Kane who is normally a Roman aficionado. A fascinating period in English history and one of my favourites, I looked forward to reading this.
The story opens with an noble Irishman being kidnapped and taken to Wales. It is from his perspective, which puts an original spin on the period by giving insight to Ireland's history at this time. There are plenty of beatings and other poor treatment, setting out who the personal antagonist is. When the Irishman saves the life of the king's son, Richard, he is rewarded by being made a squire. From here we see how adversarial, ambitious and scheming the Plantagenet family was.
Twelfth century England was a smelly place and Kane uses the details of the food, decor and general aura as an atmospheric theme throughout. He also colours the setting with details such as what soap is made from and how clothes are washed, what food is eaten and what it was like to go to the lavatory - or garderobe, as it was called. The historical knowledge is obvious without being intrusive.
The characters are emotive and have to make moral judgements throughout, but it is the political intrigue that pulls the story along. Battles in Aquitaine are brutal and engaging, without too much gore, giving more a sense of exciting action than of horror. The future King Richard is portrayed as an admirable man and brave warrior and handsome to boot: a true hero. Generally well written with only a few repeated cliches ('made my skin crawl', 'thick as thieves' and Kane's personal quirk 'in a heartbeat'), this is a very readable tale.
A buoyant, boisterous and vigorous adventure, a story well told promising even more excitement in the sequels. Recommended.
Also by Ben Kane: