Review: The Sunne in Splendour

Sunne in Splendour, TheSharon Kay Penman, The Sunne in Splendour

When most people think of Richard III, they picture a hunchbacked villain who was obsessed with being king and who murdered the princes in the Tower as a result. But in this novel, the last Plantagenet king is portrayed in a very different light: Richard (or Dickon, as most characters call him) is noble and loyal to a fault, and these good traits are ultimately what cause his downfall. The novel begins with Dickon’s childhood, when his father, the Duke of York, is killed in the war against the Lancastrian Henry VI. Dickon’s oldest brother Edward subsequently takes his father’s place in leading the Yorkist faction against Henry; eventually, he is crowned as Edward IV, and Dickon becomes one of his most trusted advisers and most skilled battle commanders. But as Edward obtains more and more power, Dickon becomes disillusioned with his brother’s morally questionable choices, and the struggle of brother against brother mirrors the broader conflict between York and Lancaster.

As always, in this book Sharon Kay Penman manages to bring the Middle Ages to life. I always enjoy her vivid descriptions of daily life during this period, as well as her depictions of medieval religion, warfare, and politics. This book in particular is a fascinating political study, showing that the cutthroat nature of modern politics is rooted in a long tradition. I also like the fact that this novel approaches Richard III from a countercultural perspective. While I don’t know enough about the subject to judge whether Penman’s interpretation is justified, it makes sense to me that Henry Tudor (who acceded to the throne after Richard’s death) would want to do everything in his power to discredit his predecessor. It’s always important to remember that history is written by the victors! All in all, I heartily recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Richard III, the War of the Roses, or the Middle Ages in general.

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5 thoughts on “Review: The Sunne in Splendour

  1. Helen says:

    This is one of my favourite historical fiction novels, so I’m glad you enjoyed it! I loved Penman’s portrayal of Richard and she certainly convinced me that he has been unfairly treated by history.

    • Christina says:

      Penman is one of my all-time favorite historical fiction writers. I’ve read all of hers except the ones about Richard I, but Lionheart is waiting on my shelves!

  2. Jenny @ Reading the End says:

    I thought Penman’s portrayal of Richard was a little too sweety-sweet, but in general I’m far more on her side of things where Richard III is concerned than I am on Shakespeare’s. But yeah, I don’t really know enough to say for sure either.

    • Christina says:

      Fair point; the book is definitely VERY pro-Richard and pro-York. But I’m willing to cut Penman some slack, since she had to have a novel-worthy romantic hero. 🙂

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