I’ve tried reading Sharon Kay Penman’s While Christ and His Saints Slept about three times now and have never been able to finish it. It is faithful to the events of “The Anarchy” but it is so faithful that about halfway through I always get bored. Maude is a strong, but overly stubborn woman. Stephen seems like a well-meaning, but misguided jock. Neither of them are particularly sympathetic and the secondary characters don’t draw any attention. Her latest novel, Lionheart, was the complete opposite. Even with a very familiar storyline, Penman keeps the characters and events engaging throughout its 600 some pages.
With Lionheart, Penman follows the events of the Third Crusade and the escapades of King Richard I (the Lionheart) and his (sometimes) merry band as they head for “Outremer.” She also chronicles the lives of the the Christians living permanently in “Outremer,” primarily the Kingdom of Jerusalem (a wholly unknown entity to me).
The secondary characters are quite fun especially the random assortment of knights, and the female characters do not read like caricatures for the most part. As there are so many characters I sometimes had difficulty following their back stories. I had to flip back and forth several times to remind myself who this particular Henri was and if he was the same as that Henri. Penman is consistent with titles and names, though jotting down characters might be helpful. My only criticism of the book is that the proliferation of characters prevents any real development. There are just too many of them at times.
Penman has written a very detailed but still engaging account of Richard I’s Third Crusade. I don’t know if I just like this story more or if her writing has fundamentally changed, but I’m more inclined now to pick up another of her works. Christ and His Saints may still need to sleep though.