There is one thing you can't fault Penman for and that's her research. It's thorough, copious and usually factual, almost OCD in places. But what I do fault her for is her need to include every single word
of it in her novels. This one was so bloated by research that it floated belly up--slowing the narrative, distancing characters from the reader and was downright tedious & distracting in places. And as fascinating as most of the information was (although I could well have lived without knowing how 12th century Welshmen cleaned their teeth or that Henry had a painful abscess in is groin near the end of his life) a lot of it really had no place in the story which led to ridiculous amounts of exposition and dialogue between characters discussing stuff they would have already known. And there was 700+ pages of it to wade through!
Surprisingly, for an author of Penman's reputation I also found her guilty of another historical fiction sin--imbuing some of her 12th century characters with 21st century sensibilities, and although it wasn't as bad as in some novels by lesser authors I've read, it was there. I also found several other niggles in that the religion expressed felt very Protestant to me (maybe it was all that scripture quoting) and the physicians seemed to have anachronistic medical knowledge. Fair enough, nobody's perfect.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy the book. I did. Because when Penman was able to concentrate on the story and not her research it was great stuff. Unfortunately, I would estimate the parts where the story, characters and history came together in harmony was only about a quarter of the book.
I do feel sad that I'm not in raptures over this book like everyone else. I really wanted to love it. No, more than that, I expected
to love it and am disappointed that I didn't. However, I did learn lots but think next time I would much rather read NF than research saturated fiction.
My special thanks to Anna and Karla who supported me through the 700+ pages and listened to my gripes. Best of all they made me laugh and helped make it a more enjoyable experience :-).
Buddy read with Anna.