I'm posting about this book a lot later than I would've liked, considering that I'm supposed to be posting about my Year of Reading Women as I finish the books, and I finished The Sunne in Splendour before I went to Halifax in February. But I finished it just before, and that's why it's taken so long for me to get around to writing about it.
Anyway, The Sunne in Splendour is this immense tome about Richard III. Credit where it's due, he wasn't really on my radar before I read the book. I remember the discovery of his remains a little over three years ago, and I've seen the princes in the Tower show up in multiple "haunted places" trashy tv shows, and that's about it. Frankly, I'm not particularly excited about learning a lot more about him after reading this novel, although I'd like to pick up Shakespeare's version of the story at some point this year to contrast it with this much more sympathetic portrayal. A little amusing: Penman was so sympathetic to Richard III that she went so far as to speculate that his deformities were almost completely invented, but his skeletal remains (discovered after she wrote the book) prove that he did have scoliosis after all.
I've been looking forward to reading this book for quite a long time, and unfortunately it ended up being pretty disappointing.
First of all, while I'm not afraid of long books, once you get beyond the 500 page mark, every additional page needs to be solid gold. If not, then there's room to trim things down. This book is over 900 pages long, and those additional 400+ pages are definitely not extremely good. They aren't even, like, moderately good. In my opinion, the book starts too early and repeats itself too much. There are several places where a character will state pretty much exactly what a different character has stated about a third character's motivations or options, and it's irritating and unnecessary. There are good reasons why a lot of historical narratives chop out or combine the actual people involved in the events. I admire Penman's dedication to historical accuracy and the obvious care she took with her research, and her book isn't exactly bad, it's just way too long and meandering.
Which brings me to what's probably my only other point: so many of the relationships that form the foundation of the story feel very hollow. There's supposed to be a feeling of grand romance between Richard and his cousin Anne Neville, and I never really got a good sense of that. It wasn't even the fact that they were cousins, because of course at this point in English history, that's just how things were. It just felt forced, and I didn't particularly like Richard, or Anne, or possibly even any of the characters at all.
So yeah, I can't say I really recommend this one. It was a slog to finish, to the point that I wish I'd abandoned it and read something else instead. On the other hand, people do like it, and I only heard about it because someone on the internet recommended it to me. So... read the first 50 pages or so and see what you think?
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