By Dan Jones
Let’s start by getting this out of the way: this is not technically a fantasy book (and it’s definitely not a sci-fi book). The Plantagenets is a history book, chronicling the era in which England was dominated by the Plantagenet family line (1154-1485). Nevertheless, I’m listing the book here, and will be filing the review under “fantasy” for ease of cataloging.
The reasons why I’m including this in the blog are that A) it’s an excellent book, and B) it basically reads like a fantasy adventure sans magic. Granted, the book does span over 300 years, but it includes a bevy of important figures and events that helped to inform ancient and modern mythologies: Richard the Lionheart, returning from the Crusades to confront his brother John (who, despite being best known as a nasty lion in the animated Robin Hood, went on to have a long and moderately successful kingship of his own); the ravages of the Black Death; The Hundred Years’ War with France; the rise and fall of Thomas Beckett; the creation of the Magna Carta; the sinking of the White Ship. The list goes on!
This was a time of incredible change and Jones does his best to give an even-handed account of the strengths and foibles of the monarchs, their families, their friends, and their foes. One of the things that I like about this extremely broad perspective is that it helps to make it clear just how arbitrary the course of history can be. It’s easy to look back and see things like the creation of the Magna Carta, or the expulsion of the English from France and think “well of course things turned out that way,” but Jones helps to show just how unexpected or unlikely these things really were.
In past reviews, I’ve commented on my preference for strong plot over strong prose, and this history of early England is basically nothing but plot. Jones’ writing is excellent, but it’s clear that his goal is to keep the story moving, and there’s not an ounce of fat on the book. I very much enjoyed it, and am looking forward to reading his subsequent book about the time period covering the War of the Roses (a time period which, incidentally, inspired significant portions of A Song of Ice and Fire).
Rating: 3 – Highly Recommended
If you liked this, you may enjoy: The War of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors, The Last Kingdom