Prince of Darkness, by Sharon Penman

Review published on June 24, 2014. Reviewed by Erin Britton

Nudge Reviewer Rating:

While Richard the Lionheart languishes in a foreign gaol and Prince John schemes for power, their formidable mother Eleanor of Aquitaine is left to keep the peace and so hold the kingdom together. Not known as one of the royal she-wolves for nothing, Eleanor is a fearsome character and more than capable of hatching her own plots and intrigue but she still needs those she can trust and those she can employ to do the dirty work for her. Justin De Qunicy is one of her most trusted servants and acts as a kind of 12th century private detective who investigates matters that trouble the queen and/or threaten the crown. De Quincy has proved himself to be a shrewd and reliable Queen’s Man and so has been tasked with solving numerous crimes and conspiracies for Eleanor.

In Prince of Darkness De Quincy is called on again to assist Eleanor and so help to guarantee the stability of the nation but this time he is required to help prove the dastardly Prince John innocent of an attempt to usurp his brother’s throne. John has been a menacing, plotting figure throughout Sharon Penman’s Queen’s Man series and so De Quincy has plenty of reason not to trust the devious prince. However, John swears that he is not behind the recently uncovered plot to kill his brother and so, at Eleanor’s behest, De Quincy must identify the real plotters before Richard the Lionheart hears of the affair and so prevent England from falling into civil war.

Justin De Quincy, illegitimate son of a bishop and seasoned crusader, is a brilliant character and a tenacious detective. His relationship with the Lady Claudine is as complex as ever with the tension between the pair being heightened by the fact that Claudine is instrumental in involving De Quincy in Prince John’s affairs. Working for Prince John was never going to be something that De Qunicy savours but he nevertheless throws himself into the investigation and it is to Sharon Penman’s credit that both De Qunicy and the reader soon come to appreciate the complex nature of John’s character and his desire for power. Of course, any business that De Qunicy finds himself involved in also seems to feature his nemesis Durand de Curzon and their verbal sparring in Prince of Darkness is excellent. There’s plenty of antagonism in their dealings but also a fair bit of humour and their interactions are always highlights in the Queen’s Man series.

Prince of Darkness is rich in historical detail and taut with intrigue and excitement. The mystery that Justin De Quincy is tasked with solving is seamlessly integrated into real events and Sharon Penman’s original characters interact convincingly with her recreations of real people. The power struggle between Richard the Lionheart and Prince John is brilliantly realised as are the fears and anxieties that the people, whether noble or average citizen, feel about the political conflicts within the country. Justin De Quincy’s investigation into the apparent plot to kill Richard the Lionheart is intriguing and it soon becomes clear that there is far more going on than even De Quincy feared.

Sharon Penman’s Prince of Darkness is a delightful medieval mystery. The historical background and Penman’s recreation of 12th century France are fascinating and the gripping story in infused with the sights, sounds and smells of the time.

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