x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

King Richard more than the Lionheart in this interpretation

In this uneven historical novel, King Richard was courageous and daring, but also spiritually conflicted, especially when it came to the war against the Saracens.

Thorvald Steen (translated by James Anderson)
Seagull Books

Thorvald Steen's knack for historical fiction has seen him cover most of the European diaspora in previous works such as Don Carlos, Giovanni, and Constantinople. In Lionheart, he tackles the myth-laced tale of England's King Richard I, built on his own extensive research of both facts and legends surrounding the monarch.

But unlike the valiant tales of Richard the Lionheart's courage, honour, and daring already in existence since the 12th century, Steen's portrayal is of a conflicted man torn between duty and personal spiritual turmoil.

This struggle becomes all too apparent in the war against the Saracens, popularly known as the Crusades, to which two-thirds of the book is dedicated. Weighing heavier on Richard's shoulders is his title as "God's Chosen One", pressed onto him by none other than his own mother.

As a historical account, Steen just about manages the difficult task of condensing the king's biography into a series of events under the theme he intends to convey. As a novel, however, Lionheart is beset with uneven pacing, rendering the characterisations scant at certain points, which in turn diminishes the plot's overall impact.