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Review: Within the Hollow Crown, by Margaret Campbell Barnes

Original date of publication: 1941
My edition: 2010 (Sourcebooks)
How I acquired my copy: ARC via the publisher, January 2010

Within the Hollow Crown is the story of Richard II, beginning at age 15 when he managed to put down the Peasants’ Rebellion in 1381. The son of Edward the Black Prince and Joan of Kent, Richard became King at age 10, after the death of his grandfather, Edward III. Richard II has a bit of a Bad Reputation, due to the way he handled certain events during his reign, but Margaret Campbell Barnes attempts to restore his reputation in this novel. Although she achieved her goal in this way, I still found that there was a lot lacking about this book.

This is the first novel I’ve read about Richard II (in fact, it’s the only novel about him that I’ve heard of). Richard’s story is extremely interesting, and the comparisons between he and his great-grandfather Edward the II are inevitable. The time period in which Edward lived is extraordinary too; the Peasants’ Revolt was merely the capstone on a century beset by chaos. It’s remarkable, therefore, how an author can manage to make a story like this uninteresting—frequently I found my attention wandering while reading this book.

I think one of my major problems with this book is that it feels dated; the research Barnes probably based her book on is outdated. Now historians tend to think that Richard suffered from personality disorders, especially towards the end of his life; Barnes’s characters is a muddled mess most of the time, which made it difficult for me as a reader to understand or even sympathize with his actions.

Her descriptions of the rioting in London in 1382 are well done, as is her description of the way that Richard died (though there's no certain proof either way), but I feel as though the various parts of the novel are disjointed. The writing style itself is confusing; Barnes uses a lot of big words (like “adumbrating”), but none of her prose truly makes much sense much of the time. Her dialogue also feels stilted. I did like the whole idea behind the novel, and I find Barnes’s attempt to portray Richard sympathetically admirable; but I just didn’t like a lot of this book.


dolleygurl said…
I agree that much of the story - especially the peasant revolt - I found it uninteresting. But I liked the way the characters were described. I knew nothing about any of these characters going into the book, but it has definately intrigued me into finding out more about them.
Clare said…
Stilted dialogue, to me, is one of the biggest problems a book can have- how can I relate to a character that doesn't talk like a human being? I'm sorry this didn't pan out.
Meghan said…
I enjoyed other books by Margaret Campbell Barnes, but I've never been a big fan of Richard II so I passed on this one. Looks like I made the right choice!

Meghan @ Medieval Bookworm

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