Author: Ben Kane
Published by: Orion
Publication date: 26th May 2022
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Bury Library
Autumn 1192. With Jerusalem still in the Saracens’ hands, and a peace treaty agreed with their leader Saladin, Richard the Lionheart is free at last to travel back to his strife-ridden kingdom. By his side at every turn is the loyal knight Ferdia, also known as Rufus. Together they will face not just Richard’s archenemy Philippe Capet of France, but also the king’s treacherous younger brother, John.
Shipwrecked on the Italian coast, the king and his small group of companions are forced into a perilous journey through lands controlled by their enemies. Shortly before Christmas 1192, Richard is taken prisoner near Vienna by Duke Leopold of Austria. Kept prisoner for several months, the king is then handed over to Henry VI, the Holy Roman Emperor. His captivity lasts for another year, fanning the flames of unrest in his territories in England and beyond.
Talks between Richard’s mother Queen Alienor and Henry VI last for months, but finally reach a bitter agreement. The extortionate sum demanded to free the king will empty the treasury and bleed England dry. Philippe Capet and Richard’s brother John collude, offering vast sums to see the king kept captive for longer. Their efforts are in vain, leading Philippe to pen a letter to John including the famous line: ‘Look to yourself, the devil is loose.’
Crowned for a second time to wash away the shame of his captivity, Richard restores order in England, forgiving John his shameful behaviour. His next task is to recover territories lost to Philippe Capet, and to re-establish his dominance over the French king. Forging clever alliances, building strategic castles and when obliged, waging war, the Lionheart carves a unique path into history.
I picked this book up from the local library where it was on display as a new arrival. I’ve been itching to get into my plethora of historical fiction reads, so this seemed like a good place to start. Unbeknown to me, this was the final part of a trilogy, but no matter, it still made for a great read.
King is the final instalment of Ben Kane’s trilogy featuring Richard the Lionheart, King of England bringing his dramatic tale to its tragic conclusion. While Richard the I is a key focus of the novel, the story is mostly carried by his loyal knight, Ferdia of Ireland. Detailing the times post-Crusade after the peace treaty with Saladin has been negotiated, King Richard turns his eyes to France, his old nemesis, Philippe Capet and an uncertain future.
A lot of ground is covered in King. Detailing the later years of Richard the Lionheart and his less-famous times post-crusade in Outremar through the eyes of one of his loyal knights, Ferdia – also known as Rufus. Rufus has his own trials to keep him occupied, which helps the narrative flow during times in which they would stagnate should the main focus be on the Lionheart himself; especially during the years of his incarceration. Kane has made a strong character out of Rufus, making him enjoyable and relatable to read about. His personal struggles drive the plot forwards where the titular King cannot – Kane is a stickler for truth and this shines through in his work and research; eras of Richard I’s life are unknown and during these periods Rufus is out in the world, dealing with his own goals and agendas. Affairs of the heart, personal grievances and the dealings of his Squire; Rhys.
It is these scenes of personal grievances that offer another level to King, reading about a singular character can be interesting if done well, but an over-arching novel such as this relies on its ability to connect the reader with the characters they’re reading about. I felt deeply the pains that Rufus felt; both personal and those involving Richard I. Kane’s ability to write deep, emotional and meaningful characters is second-to-none and I am eager to keep exploring his work to find more wonderfully written characters within the pages.
Personally, I found the scenes involving Rufus and his problems the most enjoyable, they are the most action-packed and entertaining to read. Also, the most heart-wrenching, they offer a more personal approach to the characters. This isn’t to say that Richard the Lionheart isn’t as well written and rounded as a character, he is just more involved with the political side of the events as they unfold; events that involve a lot of historical characters; members of nobility, that often share names and become a bit of a complicated blur. Yet, what I find enjoyable about Historical Fiction is that there’s always an element of truth to them. I am no historian, in fact, my historical knowledge is pretty terrible, so I find that I am also learning as I read. Bringing history to the reader in a magical way such as this is enlightening; I had no idea the fate of Richard the Lionheart; all I knew was that he was the Crusader King of England – but it seems as though he had little care at all for his homeland and was more intent on ruling parts of France and returning to fight in more Crusades. This is all written into King in a manner that makes the book easy to read, through his discussions with Rufus.
Alongside Rufus is his squire, Rhys and; as the book progresses Rhys’ partner. Rhys offers companionship to Rufus and a means for the two to discuss their history together alongside Richard – some of the events discussed I imagine are written about in more detail in the previous books of the trilogy. However, I don’t feel like I missed out, the tales they told were fully-fleshed enough for me to understand their significance without bogging the flow of the book I was reading.
Overall, the book was exciting, there’s enough happening to keep the pages turning and the reader guessing – even if they know their history better than I do. There was a romantic element to the novel too, which was tastefully written. Rufus spends a fair amount of the book pining over a lost love that he can never be with; Richard I’s sister, Joanna. But, all resolves itself in Rufus’ favour in the end.
The part of the book I struggled with was politicking. There are a lot of different characters, from different realms of Europe vying for the Lionheart and the names get confused and convoluted and bogged me down somewhat. Needless to say, this is a part of history and cannot be changed, but with many of the names reading similar of being the same as other participants, it became a bit confusing to keep up with. However, the action scenes then took over and the political side of things got swept under the carpet in favour of something more exciting!
I enjoyed my time with this book and I am eager to read more Historical Fiction – most of my experiences being limited to Sharpe and all that. Obviously, I’d recommend it to those that have already read the other two books, because the conclusion of the Lionheart’s story is worth reading, but also knowing Rufus’ fate too.
A well-written, action-packed novel stuffed with political intrigue. Expertly researched details of Richard the Lionheart’s life post-Outremer. Compelling characters that you feel deeply for. Frantic fight scenes that’ll stick with the reader long after the book has been finished.
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