Title: Here Be Dragons (Welsh Princes #1)
Author: Sharon Kay Penman
Publisher: Pan Books
Publication Date: 1985
Oh, this book. One of my top priority reads for 2019, Here Be Dragons was recommended to me by my mum, who knows just the sort of thing I love. It’s a long, juicy medieval story, focusing on the history of my homeland – basically, all the ingredients were there for a new all-time favourite.
Yes, it’s long. Yes, there is a great deal of complex political detail, and many, many characters to keep track of. But Sharon Kay Penman delivered this epic novel with such effortless prose that I found myself completely captivated.
Before I ramble on too long, let me attempt to give a brief overview of this amazing story. At its very heart is Llewelyn ap Iorwerth, Prince of Gwynedd, and his attempt to unify Wales whilst constantly staving off the English king’s attempts to take the country for himself. But it’s also about his Norman wife Joanna, and the often heartbreaking consequences of a marriage spanning both sides of the England/Wales border.
The characters in this book are far from perfect; in fact, some of them are just downright awful. But whether I cared for them or hated them, Sharon Kay Penman made me feel such strong emotions for all these people, to the point where I was internally screaming at them whenever they made a particularly bad decision. I usually struggle to connect with characters in historical fiction set further in the past, but Llewelyn and Joanna both leapt to life on the page.
Sharon Kay Penman mentions the concept of hiraeth in this novel – a unique Welsh word loosely translating as both “longing” and “homesickness”. This is such an apt word for my entire reading experience, as the beautiful descriptions of my homeland stirred the deepest feeling of hiraeth within me. The narrative contains several such references to Welsh language and culture, and anyone wanting to learn more about the country’s history would pick up so much from this novel.
If you love a solid medieval historical fiction novel, or if you’re at all interested in learning about the history of Wales, I would thoroughly recommend giving this book a try. I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it, and I’m keen to move on to the other books in the trilogy!