This is the sequel to "Lionhearted." In her author's note, Penman writes the first novel is about Richard the legend, this one about Richard the man Maybe that's why I enjoyed this sequel much more than "Lionheart" my least favorite among the almost dozen of hers I've read. Richard is at his most sympathetic as a prisoner of the Germans and dealing with his trauma in the aftermath. And after reading 9 of Penman's books dealing with the Angevins, I felt rather sad leaving them--especially her Eleanor of Aquitaine--I'm sure Penman does too.
In many of her books, there is a tension between two adversaries and Penman leaves you suspended in your sympathy towards both--whether it's Matilda versus Stephen or Henry versus his sons or even Richard versus Saladin. This wasn't this sort of book. Heinrich of Germany and Philippe of France are both thoroughly loathsome. Her Prince John though unscrupulous is fun to read and you do feel for him at times. I think though of all the more secondary characters my favorite was Raimond de St Gilles, the Count of Toulouse. Like Joanna, I fell in love with him and wished I could spend more time with him, although considering the tragic fate of Toulouse in the Albigensian Crusade, it's perhaps best we leave him where we did. He was a man sadly out of step of his time in his irreverence and tolerance. Penman is her best at recapturing medieval times from the foods to the deeply held beliefs and a mindset alien to us. It's to be transported to a world as alien as Mars.