I can now say I've read all of Penman's novels, a baker's dozen of them, and my favorites remain The Sunne in Splendour and the first novel in the Welsh Princes trilogy, Here Be Dragons. I'd say this ranks just the next level down--a four and a half, rather than a five. Not to be counted among my favorite books of all time and it didn't move me to tears--but great as historical fiction nevertheless. I'm newly impressed with Penman's skills as a historical novelist. Her research is evident, she definitely conveys how alien the medieval mindset was compared to our times but makes her characters relatable. It can't be easy, fleshing out these stick figures we get mere outlines of from chroniclers, putting actions and words that fit.
If anything, that was the problem as I reached the end of the book. I dreaded that ending and it made me drag my feet those last hundred pages. In fact, I had deliberately avoided the last two books in this trilogy for years. Here Be Dragons is a true life love story--among the most moving I'd ever read, all the more for being based on real people. As a love story, it's has it's share of the bitter among the sweet, but of all of Penman's books I'd say its the most upbeat. But the other two? Well, anyone who knows anything about British history would know that it wasn't long after the events of that book that Wales was swallowed into England. The very titles of the books gave me pause: "Falls the Shadow" and "The Reckoning." If that weren't enough, well, Penman is all to good at showing the flaws and foibles of the characters that doomed them--and poor Wales. All at the same time making medieval Wales terribly appealing to a modern reader. At the same time she doesn't demonize Edward I--but you want to damn him thoroughly anyway!
And now, if you'll excuse me I think I'll begin the process of Penman withdrawal by finding the fluffiest, more sickening sweet and upbeat story I can.