Review: Lionheart by Ben Kane



1179. Henry II is King of England, Wales, Ireland, Normandy, Brittany and Aquitaine. The House of Plantagenet reigns supreme.

But there is unrest in Henry’s house. Not for the first time, his family talks of rebellion.

Ferdia – an Irish nobleman taken captive during the conquest of his homeland – saves the life of Richard, the king’s son. In reward for his bravery, he is made squire to Richard, who is already a renowned warrior.

Crossing the English Channel, the two are plunged into a campaign to crush rebels in Aquitaine. The bloody battles and gruelling sieges which followed would earn Richard the legendary name of Lionheart.

But Richard’s older brother, Henry, is infuriated by his sibling’s newfound fame. Soon it becomes clear that the biggest threat to Richard’s life may not be rebel or French armies, but his own family…

My Review

In this first book of a series about Richard the Lionheart, we follow the career of a young Irishman nicknamed Rufus, told in first person. More through accident than intent, our young Rufus goes into Duke Richard’s service as a squire, although he is cursed with serving at the same time as his arch-enemy FitzAldelm, a knight high in the duke’s favor. Their deadly conflict goes on under Richard’s nose, though the duke never seems to notice. He has too many other things to worry about, like treachery from his brothers. Young Henry is among the troublemakers, while Geoffrey, next brother after Richard, eggs him on. Philippe, the King of France, encourages all of Henry’s sons to rebel against their father. The situation seems impossible:

The Young King hammered down his fists, rattling the cups. ‘You tread on dangerous ground, brother.’
I followed Richard’s intense blue eyes, malevolent as an angry lion’s now. They bore down on the Young King. In a silky soft voice, laden with threat, he said, ‘I tread on dangerous ground?’ His gaze flicked to Geoffrey, who paled a little.
The Young King’s mouth opened for an angry rejoinder, but again Henry intervened. ‘Peace, my sons. Peace.’ Under his breath he muttered, ‘The young of the eagle are my four sons, who will not cease to persecute me even unto death.’

As we know from history, Henry’s words were prophetic. While this is going on, we also follow the trials and tribulations of William Marshal; his story is told in third person so there is no confusion between him and Rufus. His loyalty is paramount, although at times he wonders whether his strict sense of duty will ultimately ruin his career. The novel takes place while Richard struggles to assert himself against his rebellious Aquitaine nobles, and the shenanigans of his brothers just make matters worse. And Henry II stubbornly refuses to name Richard his heir after young Henry dies, which doesn’t help matters. John, of course, sucks up to his father like the snake that he is. The book is full of conflict and stress, and our Rufus just barely keeps his head above water; he has his own personal demons to fight. The pace doesn’t slow all the way to the end. It’s a good read.

Find Ben Kane on Twitter @BenKaneAuthor

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