Monday, November 08, 2010

The Passionate Brood by Margaret Campbell Barnes

In this compelling novel of love, loyalty, and lost chances, Margaret Campbell Barnes gives readers a new perspective on Richard the Lionheart's triumphs and tragedies. Drawing on folklore, Barnes explores what might have happened if King Richard's foster brother were none other than Robin Hood, a legendary figure more vibrant than most in authentic history. Thick as thieves as Richard builds a kingdom and marshals a crusade, the two clash when Robin Hood so provokes the king's white hot temper that Richard banishes him. The Passionate Brood is a tale of a man driven to win back the Holy Land, beset by the guilt of casting out his childhood friend, and shouldering the burden of being the lionhearted leader of the Plantagenets.

The last book I read from Margaret Campbell Barnes was Within the Hollow Crown, which was about Richard II, and was quite slow and plodding and laborious to read. Leaving out the fact that this book is about another Richard, this time Richard I, I would not use any of these words to describe The Passionate Brood: A Novel of Richard the Lionheart and the Man who Became Robin Hood. Instead words like romanticised and idealised, fast paced, adventurous and over the top come to mind.

First, a note about the subtitle of this novel. To my mind it is a little misleading to suggest that the reader is going to find out more about Robin Hood because whilst there is a Robin in the novel, and there is an explanation for his outlaw status, there is precious little page time spent exploring the actions of the man who has achieved such legendary status over the years.

The male leading character for the drama that unfolds in these pages is undoubtedly Richard II, who history knows as Richard the Lionheart. As a character he dominates the pages. He is a man who is passionate, quick tempered, driven, pious and so much more. As king, Richard spent barely any time in England, but rather spent much of his time away on Crusade, coming close to reaching Jerusalem, but not close enough.

There is one character in particular who does manage to steal a little of the limelight from Richard where she is given page time, and that is his sister Joanna. I would love to read something about her at some point. Let's face it, most of the time I would be happy to read about any of this fascinating family. At one stage this book was released under the title Like Us, They Lived. I definitely think The Passionate Brood fits so much better!

We follow Richard as a young man, engaged to Anne of France whom he dislikes intensely (this young woman has sometimes been referred to as Alais in other novels ) and we travel with him as he journeys to Navarre where he meets the beautiful Berengaria who captures his heart. We join both Richard and his young bride as they go on Crusade, as he shows the military leadership for which he is still famous, the fighting with the other leaders, most notably Phillip of France, and then on his ill fated journey home where he is kidnapped and the country of England is nearly impoverished trying to raise the required ransom.

For a king who spent very little time in England, and whose wife didn't set foot in the country whilst she was Queen, Richard is still remembered with much fondness now. There is plenty of speculation about him, particularly in relation to his sexuality, but there is none of that in this novel. The Richard we find within the pages of this book is painted in broad strokes, not necessarily glossing over some of his less than stellar moments, but certainly presented in a highly romanticised fashion.

Reading this book has certainly piqued my interest, in particular for the next Sharon Kay Penman book which is telling Richard's story.

Over the years I have read a number of Margaret Campbell Barnes novels and for the most part I have liked them. This book is however my new favourite book from this author. It was a rollicking good read.

Rating 4.5/5

Many thanks to Sourcebooks for sending me a copy of this book or review purposes


  1. Clearly our opinions on this one went a bit sideways. I just couldn't buy this version of Richard after reading Penman's in Devil's Brood. I seem to have the same problem with books on Eleanor :)

  2. I have never heard of this book, but the synopsis that you posted really intrigues me. I also have not read anything about Richard, but have heard a lot about him. I am glad that you liked the book so much, and I am thinking about adding it to my ever growing list. Great and thoughtful review!

  3. I have been wavering back and forth about this novel, but this decided it for me: "words like romanticised and idealised, fast paced, adventurous and over the top come to mind". I'll prented I am reading an Errol Flynn/Olivia de Havilland-type adventure story and let go of the historicity of Richard I's portrayal. (If I become traumatised, Penman's fortcoming book will surely be an all the sweeter remedy.) Thank you, Marg :-)

  4. Misfit, I haven't read Devil's Brood yet, so maybe my opinion would have been different if I had.

    Zibilee, isn't it funny how we have heard so much about him but there don't seem to be that many books out there about him.

    Danielle C, I think that would be the right attitude to take into it!

  5. It's been a while since I read a good historical but this sounds great. I read two of her books, which Sourcebooks re-issued, and I thought they were great. Those were about the Tudors.

  6. I have to check out this Margaret Campbell Barnes. I don't know how I've missed her. Her books sound wonderful and I feel due a cozy historical read.

  7. She's on my TBR but this one is definitely going on the list.