PRINCE OF DARKNESS by Sharon Penman

28 12 2011

England and France, 1193-4

Justin de Quincy’s first trip toFrance– and I realise I have missed the last book in this series, Dragon’s Lair, the one that comes between Cruel As The Grave and Prince of Darkness. As most of the characters are carried on from book to book in what is in effect a medieval soap opera (that happens in most such series) I am a little out of touch at first, but I soon get back into the swing of things.

What makes this book different is that the story is set in Brittany, Normandy and Paris; that Justin is working for Prince John, King Richard’s brother, instead of for Queen Eleanor, who makes no appearance until the final chapter when Justin returns to London; and the appearance of a new character out of history, another of this fabulous family, who has never before made an appearance in fiction so far as I know (if she has no doubt someone will inform me!): Emily, sister of King Henry II and therefore sister-in-law to Eleanor and aunt to Richard and John. She is married to a minor Welsh prince but, like most of her family, prefers to spend her time inFrance, where she of course has lands. In this book, Justin has to deal with her as well as with Durand and John. We already know from previous books his feelings about those two (though there is something very likeable about Penman’s John); and his opinion of Emma? She was “the only woman he knew who viewed extortion as a social skill”.

John, having done his best to ensure that his brother Richard should never be released from his Austrian prison, and having failed – the ransom has been paid and Richard is on his way home – is now accused of plotting to murder Richard in order to ensure that he never reaches England. The first plot might be forgiven; the second, which amounts to regicide, would never be, not even by his mother, Queen Eleanor.

John claims that this is all a plot against him. And it might well be, because he must realise that he could never inherit the throne if he was guilty of regicide and fratricide. John is anything but stupid.

So who could be plotting against him? Phillipe ofFrance? Constance of Brittany, mother of Richard and John’s nephew? Justin and Durand must find out, fast.

Another excellent book by one of the best writers of medieval mysteries around. And still dealing with my favorite family!

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