It seems I am forever qualifying my reviews, doesn’t it. Well a qualifier here, or perhaps two: 1–it took me nearly 2 months to finish this puppy (and I thought about abandoning it several times, but then I’d read a chapter and get sucked back in), and 2–I have a serious level of jealousy toward Penman and her success (she too was a lawyer (tax, of all horrible things!)–and now, lucky girl, she never has to be again!).

Shannon Penman is a terrific writer. Read a chapter, just one, close your eyes and take the tiniest effort and you will be able to vividly imagine that you are there. Being able to paint so well with words though has its drawbacks–neither she nor her editor could imagine cutting much of the over 700 page beast that is Here Be Dragons. The first significant chunk of the book, maybe up to 1/4 or even 1/3 of the book takes place before the two main characters meet. The book is supposed to be about the love story between Bad King John’s bastard daughter Joanna and Llewelyn the Great of Wales. And it is a lovely story, and it doesn’t cheat you on the love story between them, the angst and agony of Joanna’s love being split between her father and husband. But it does go on and on and on and on.

I think part of the reason why I kept putting it down was utter frustration with Joanna–she was so utterly undeserving of Llewelyn. While he wasn’t a perfect husband, he was certainly for more understanding of her fits, childishness, and the million times she stabbed him in the back to try and do right by her father. I think she was in a complicated position but she was one of those horribly misguided souls who forever seemed to be making wrong decisions out of selflessness for her love of those around her, but when  you really step back and look at it, she was ridiculously selfish. Had the book been half its size, I might not have been so disenchanted with her by the end.

Speaking of the end, I felt a bit on the cheated side. After a seemingly almost impossible reconciliation between the two — it skips a few years, and then they die. I wanted to reach into the book and shake someone.

Despite the great talent Penman has, I doubt I will read anything else by her. At least not until I’m in retirement and have all the time in the world to read books that, while good, do go on, and on, and on.

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