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Falls the Shadow
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For her third historical novel, Penman focuses on the mid-13th-century reign of England's Henry III and stories of those who opposed that inept king. A main detractor is French-born Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, who leads the fight for parliamentary restrictions on the monarch, and later becomes Henry's brother-in-law through marriage to Eleanor, Countess of Pembroke. She emerges as a major figure, as does a distant relative by marriage, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, who fights for supremacy in Wales. A promised genealogy should sort out the family relationships as well as the Welsh names. Penman's authentic historical treatment and characterizations capture the imagination and leave the characters well poised for an intended sequel. Recommended. Ellen Kaye Stoppel, Drake Univ. Law Lib., Des Moines

It is a mystery why Simon de Montfort's name is not as instantly recognizable as those of Charlemagne and Richard the Lionhearted. The histories of France and England were significantly shaped by the causes he espoused and the battles he fought. Penman, a writer whose fidelity to historical detail is matched by her gift for narrative, makes Simon, Earl of Leicester, one of her central characters in this sweeping, dramatic saga set in the 13th century. The novel initially suffers from a dual focus, however, since Penman is equally concerned with the descendants of Llewelyn Farr of The Sunne in Splendour, who united the Welsh lords in an uneasy peace. The lives of highborn English, Welsh and French families intersect and painfully collide through complex ties of royal kinship: Montfort's wife, Nell is sister to King Henry III, one of England's most incompetent monarchs. Hot-tempered, high principled and ``the most celebrated soldier in Christendom,'' Montfort enters into bitter conflict with his brother-in-law, becoming leader of the barons who oppose Henry's irresponsible leadership. Henry is forced to accept the Oxford Provisions that limit his power and affirm the rights of English citizens, but after two decades of intrigue, internecine conflict, shifting alliances and full-fledged civil war, Henry's son Edward Plantagenet prevails in the bloody battle of Evesham. Penman brilliantly evokes the medieval world with its deeply ingrained religious convictions that made men believe themselves directly favored or abandoned by God, a mental construct hard to reconcile with ``the seductive allure of a chivalric brotherhood based on the sword.'' As usual, she illuminates the events of individual lives as well as the political and cultural forces that characterized this tumultuous era, in a thoroughly engrossing book. 75,000 first printing; $100,000 ad/promo. (May)

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