The Sunne in Splendour-Sharon Kay Penman

Opening: “Richard did not become frightened until darkness began to settle over the woods.”

This was billed as a novel about Richard III, but Edward is a resoundingly present character throughout. This is, as I read it, part of Penman’s argument about Richard’s character and motivations. It does make for a somewhat disconcerting read, as Richard to some extent becomes hidden behind the machinations of his family and courtiers.

I couldn’t face finishing the book for a long time (this is the problem with historical fiction: you tend to know how the story ends) and so when I did finish, my emotional response was pretty muted. Although Sunne does a splendid job of evoking the time and the world, and probably of explaining decisions and mysteries, The Daughter of Time remains my favorite novel about Richard. I think this lies partly in the fact that Daughter has a strong central coherence to its narrative, whereas Sunne covers a vast timespan, with a wide cast of characters.

I think too that Penman’s narrative ends up being less sure of how to cast Richard. In some ways this is right–people can’t simply be summed up in one sentence. On the other hand, Tey’s Richard is someone you whole-heartedly love*, and become a partisan for; he is a shining tragic figure. Penman’s Richard might be closer to the historical reality, but he is also difficult to grapple with.

As a side note, I had one of those blinding AHA! moments in the middle of reading this. You know that line in Shakespeare: “Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this son of York”? I always assumed that son is a nice play on sun, which of course it is. BUT! The Sunne in Splendour was also Edward IV’s standard. Ah, Shakespeare, so brilliant (except when you’re relying on More’s life of Richard).

Book information: St. Martinn’s Griffin,1982; historical fiction, adult

* and by you, I mean I


1 Comment

Filed under bookish posts, reviews

One response to “The Sunne in Splendour-Sharon Kay Penman

  1. Mimi

    Ooooh, ooooh, what a brilliant observation. Thank you!

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