© 2020 Ben Kane
A noble son of Ireland is transported to England as a hostage to secure his father’s loyalty, and the adventure of a lifetime begins. Abused and ill-treated by the petty lords who are given custody over him, “Rufus” — not his name, but what do the newly English Normans care? — earns favor for himself when he sounds the alarm and prevents the Duke of Aquitaine, the warrior-prince Richard, from falling prey to a Welsh ambush. Accepted into Richard’s ranks as a squire, Rufus sees first-hand the treachery of Richard’s brothers, and joins him in France to put down a rebellion and deal with French mischief. The first in a trilogy, Ben Kane offers a fictional glimpse at one of England’s most famed kings, a man capable of winning the loyalty of even an enemy of the king.
I was most impressed by Ben Kane’s “Eagles” trilogy, concerning the Battle of the Teutoberg Forest and its aftermath, and continue to enjoy his historical adventures here. Although Lionheart doesn’t have one massive battle at its heart, Rufus and his lord are never far from the din of war. Rufus is forced by circumstance to excel in combat from the first moment he arrives in England, despised as he is by some of the lords who lack Richard’s regard for him and lash out at him in their jealousy. The power-plays between Henry II’s sons drive the plot here: the young heir, Henry, is landless despite his title, and is thus jealous of his younger rival Richard, who holds Eleanor’s vast realm of Aquitaine. Geoffrey and John also have smaller holdings, but the three petty princes are all united in their jealousy of the warrior-prince, and even scheme against their father with the French to foment rebellion in his territory to weaken Richard’s standing. Rufus accompanies Richard and continues making a name for himself through a series of altercations against rebels, mercenaries, and Welshmen. Although Rufus should loath the English, he admires Richard and is proud to serve him, despite the stress and indignities of having enemies in Richard’s camp: such is his devotion that he agrees to follow him even to the Holy Land, there to fight far-distant enemies.
Lionheart is a strong start to a promising trilogy, with a sympathetic but not unbelievable main character poised for greater adventures still alongside his lord. Kane’s use of visceral details to make the medieval setting come alive is similar to Bernard Cornwell’s, and he incorporates period terms (Outremer, mesnie, etc) to further immerse the reader in the story All this is much appreciated, as is the marginal-at-best role that romantic entanglements play: I get their appeal and appreciate their value in sometimes motivating the main character in a military adventure, but some authors go overboard and it gets distracting.
Next up: Crusader. Deus vult!
Here be Dragons, Sharon Key Penman.Set during the reign of King John, though I can’t remember if it was during his usurpation of Richard’s role or afterwards…
Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Alison Weir.