How we have already reached the end of 2022 is a mystery to me. My Dad used to tell me that the older one gets, the faster time flies. I never believed him then, but I'm a believer now. This year, I've read some fabulous books. Among the contenders for my favorite of 2022 were : A Song of Sixpence by Judith Arnopp, The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett, Her Secret War by Pam Lecky, River God by Wilbur Smith, and many others.
However, I've saved my favorite book to share this week as a review.
Sadly, historical fiction author, Sharon Kay Penman died in January of 2021, so allow me to state that the world has been bereft of one incredible writer for two years. Her last book, The Land Beyond the Sea, is the incredible, true story of the leper king of Jerusalem. Taking place during the Second Crusade, Penman introduces a host of colorful personalities; each character making a statement in their own way. Honestly, I didn't want this book to end, and another of Penman's books is sitting in my TBR stack, ready to be read.
For me, of the many things required in the construction of excellent historical fiction, three things stand out: 1) an intricately woven plot, 2) characters that are so real, I feel as though I'm on a first-name basis with them once I'm done, 3) colorful world-building--taking me back to a particular period through sights, smells, and sound, all painting the perfect historical world in my imagination.
Penman did this so well that at one point in the book, which was particularly intense, I had to set it aside momentarily to regain my balance and breathe deeply! When a book causes me to react like that, I know I'm in the hands of one of the world's most gifted writers.
Do read my review of The Land Beyond the Sea, and then either order it or contact your library to check out a copy. It's simply phenomenal.
The Land Beyond the Sea
Reviewed by Brook Allen
This was my first Sharon Kay Penman novel. She came highly recommended to me by several other readers and suffice it to say--this won't be my LAST SKP book. What an incredible treasure this woman's talent was, and how sad that she's no longer with us to keep the books coming.
First of all, if you are a purist, then you're likely to adore this book. Penman made a great effort through meticulous research to present the story as close as possible to how it probably occurred, dialogue included--some of which came straight from primary sources!!! Character-wise, she couldn't have selected a more incredible period to write on, for the Crusades present multiple cultures and traditions, as well as spiritual beliefs.
Saladin, the Saracen sultan eager to recapture lost territories from the Franks. Agnes, a vengeful woman both wronged and bitter, yet also a mother as protective of her young as a sow grizzly. Maria, the young Greek royal married to the King of Jerusalem, who eventually finds love in an unexpected marriage. Baldwin, the leper King, who winds up being one of history's greatest leaders under horrific circumstances. William, the bishop who loved his country, its history, and its King, ever loyal, ever outspoken to protect the realm. And my personal favorite--Balian, a young nobleman, loyal to the crown and a lover of his God--a man with a heart of courage who always puts others ahead of himself.
Baldwin IV, the young "Leper King" of Jerusalem
And there are other characters who Penman fleshed out, even though they didn't have as prominent a role as the ones mentioned above. In her author's notes, she describes traveling to the Holy Land to experience it, to see the sites she was writing about, and to get an over-all feel for the countryside and historical places. She mentioned how she felt this novel was especially appropriate for the day and age in which we live. Certainly there have been plenty of recent clashes between Muslims and Christians in the past two decades. Penman deftly creates a unique and well-played friendship between two characters, one a Muslim (Al-Adil, brother to Saladin), and a Christian, Balian d'Ibilin. This friendship is comprised of a special trust between the two men... both of whom are full of good-intent and honor, both who stand to represent their own people.
Beautiful, tragic, and at some points difficult to read due to its intensity, this powerful and unique slice of history is 100% worth your time. If you are a historical fiction lover, don't wait to sample Sharon Kay Penman's books. RUN and get this one. It was her last, and it's a doozy.
BUY THE BOOK!
*Click on cover to order.