Lionheart, by Ben Kane


The first of a new series from the bestselling author.
Home » Book Reviews » Lionheart, by Ben Kane

Richard the Lionheart is one of medieval history’s best-known figures. Arguments over whether he was a great warrior or a terrible king abound, and are unlikely to ever reach a satisfactory conclusion. Ben Kane peels back layers of myth and supposition, and allows a very human character to emerge.

Lionheart commences in 1179. Henry II rules over England, Wales, Ireland, Normandy, Brittany and Aquitaine. However, within his own family factions have formed, seething with discontent and incipient rebellion.

Ferdia Ó Catháin, a young Irish nobleman, is delivered Striguil to stand as surety for his rebellious and defeated family in Cairlinn. Taking and holding political hostages was a common practice in the Middle Ages, and while such hostages would have a degree of freedom a modern audience might not expect in connotation with the word, they were also in a very precarious position. The least infraction by his father could see Ferdia – called Rufus due to his red hair – executed. Impetuous and hot headed, Ferdia makes an enemy of one of the knights before he has even arrived in Wales. This enmity dogs his steps throughout the rest of the book, driving the plot and hindering Ferdia by turns.

The young hostage’s luck changes when he meets Richard, the king’s son. This is the first of several encounters, during which Ferdia impresses Richard with his bravery and also with a certain disregard for the rules. Having saved Richard’s life, Ferdia becomes one of his squires. Rebellion in Aquitaine leads Richard’s forces across the channel and into fierce battles and punishing sieges.

Richard’s older brother, Henry – known as the Young King – is displeased by his younger sibling’s fame and popularity. Within the political hotbed that is the Plantagenet royal family, a plot begins to take shape. The greatest danger to Richard and his followers is likely to be from his own family.

Lionheart is an immersive tale set against the earlier part of Richard’s life. By allowing the reader to meet Richard before his fame in the crusades is at its height, Kane shows him as a man first and a legend second. Ferdia provides a refreshing viewpoint through which to watch the action. Always torn between his personal loyalty for Richard and the uncomfortable fact that he is an Irishman who has taken service with someone who ought to be his enemy, Ferdia is forced to grapple constantly with the bonds of duty and personal honour. Conflicting loyalties, filial duty and familial in-fighting form a strong bedrock of themes supporting an action-packed story with plenty of battles and political intrigue. Told with sensory immediacy which plunges the reader into the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of a world which existed over eight hundred years ago, Kane takes us back in time in a way that makes every character human, fallible and relatable to a modern audience whilst never shying from historical authenticity.

Lion Heart

J.A.Ironside is novelist and author of the King’s Knight series, the latest of which is Tyrant, set during the 14th century.