History comes alive in Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman. This book has everything: royalty, battles, politics, adventure, betrayal, genealogy and love triangles. Joanna, daughter of King John of England, is promised in marriage to Prince Llewelyn of Wales. As in most royal marriages during the twelfth century, alliances were forged for political reasons. Very small daughters were promised in marriage to king’s sons in order to protect land or gain it. Fourteen year old Joanna is fearful of leaving her home and marrying a stranger in a foreign land where the language is even stranger. Her husband, Llewelyn, eighteen years her senior, treats her with much kindness and Joanna eventually falls deeply in love with him.
Forging this bond between England and Wales does not mean they live in harmony. Her father and husband are constantly battling over land rights and power. At one point Joanna must beg her father to spare her husband’s life. Joanna and Llewelyn’s love is not without additional complications. Llewelyn strays at times and Joanna falls into adultery. This wrenching love triangle ends with her lover’s death by hanging and forgiveness given to Joanna because of the deep love her husband has for her.
The history is carefully researched and detailed in this first book of a trilogy. We learn so much of the culture and minds of the medieval people. The difficult Welsh names and pseudo-period language that Penman uses makes this a novel that takes much concentration. The plots are complex and involve many different real monarchs that lived during that time period but the writing is excellent and worth the time necessary to truly absorb this period in history.