when peter, a family friend who lavishes his book-attention on me rather than his non bookish daughters, recommended sharon penman’s the reckoning, i feigned a polite interest and thanked him. he’s a great man for bestsellers and thanks to him i’ve read some things i would never usually have touched, such as michael crichton’s state of fear which i read last year. it was actually a great read, and i love having something plot-driven and sensational to read on the train or in study breaks.
i understand that the reckoning has also been a ripper sales-wise; whether or not this true, i can’t say this book or the author were ever on my radar before peter introduced us.
i took this home tucked underneath richard dawkins’ the god delusion and david mitchell’s cloud atlas with the intention of reading it only very distantly in the future. but, being in the middle of reading no logo and the man who mistook his wife for a hat, i had a yen for some fiction. despite my lack of affinity for history generally, a quick peek between the covers revealed simply written prose, which was extraordinarily appealing in the midst of my mind-crush.
the reckoning is indeed simply written. however, the plot, which penman assures her readers is almost entirely based on true historical facts, is not so simple. i felt myself admiring her restraint as well as the depth of research which lends rich complexity to characters and events. perfectly paced, episodes of domestic peace and festivity are interspersed among periods of high intrigue and stress. with this in mind, i forgave her for punctuating the dialogue with phrases attempting to set the historical tone, which, during the first hundred pages, is intensely annoying. thankfully, by the middle of the book, characters drop atavistic phrases such as ‘for certes’ far less.
for a book based on 11th century turmoil between england and wales, little of the narrative is substantially focused on representing war itself. rather, penman suggests the effects of bloodshed and struggle upon the tangle of royal european families, and does it masterfully. both deed and word lend weight to characters such as llewellyn ap gruffydd, the prince of wales, and edward, the english king under delusion of his own righteousness. there are many characters on either side of the battle for whom the reader is able to feel sympathy, although a couple come dangerously close to ringing in medieval stereotypes. having said that, there are true horrors countenanced, by the welsh people particularly.
against my initial reaction to the subject matter and genre, i really liked this. it was great for train travel. short, diverse chapterettes enabled me to digest it in dramatic episodes, sneak a chunk in between class, and come back to it as if just departed.
oh! and, if anyone knows how to properly pronounce ‘llewellyn’, please let me know.