Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Greatest Knight

The Greatest Knight
by Elizabeth Chadwick

Trade Paperback: 560 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
First Released: 2009

Author Website
Author on Twitter

Source: ARC from publisher

Back Cover Description:
Royal protector. Loyal servant. Forgotten hero.

A penniless young knight with few prospects, William Marshal is plucked from obscurity when he saves the life of Henry II's formidable queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. In gratitude, she appoints him tutor to the heir to the throne, the volatile and fickle Prince Henry. But being a royal favorite brings its share of danger and jealousy as well as fame and reward.

A writer of uncommon historical integrity and accuracy, Elizabeth Chadwick resurrects the true story of one of England's greatest forgotten heroes in a captivating blend of fact and fiction. The Greatest Knight restores William Marshal to his rightful place at the pinnacle of the Middle Ages, reflecting through him the triumphs, scandals, and power struggles that haven't changed in eight hundred years.

Here's a book trailer for The Greatest Knight.

The Greatest Knight is an enjoyable historical fiction that covers the first part of William Marshal's life (1167-1194 AD). The sequel, describing the rest of his life, is titled The Scarlet Lion.

The author clearly knows her subject matter and stayed true to it. Her skilled use of historical detail helped bring the world alive in my imagination without slowing the pace.

However, the author had so many years to cover that she often skipped over months, even years, of William Marshal's life between each chapter (though what happened during that time was always briefly told). Whole wars were skipped over or were covered with only one or two scenes.

The characters were interesting and had some depth to them. Due to the fast pace of the first two-thirds of the novel, though, any troubles William Marshal faced were overcome before I really had a chance to worry about what would happen. However, the last third of the book settles down to cover a relatively short period of time in detail, and I loved this section. Even knowing some of what was going to happen, the tension built nicely, and I couldn't put the novel down.

There was a minor amount of swearing. There were several sex scenes (both between married and unmarried couples). It's clear what's going on in these scenes, but only one scene was explicit--though I'd call it discreetly explicit with some heat. Overall, I'd recommend this novel to historical fiction readers.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
In the dark hour before dawn, all the shutters in the great hall were closed against the evil vapours of the night. Under the heavy iron curfew, the fire was a quenched dragon’s eye. The forms of slumbering knights and retainers lined the walls and the air sighed with the sound of their breathing and resonated with the occasional glottal snore.

At the far end of the hall, occupying one of the less favoured places near the draughts and away from the residual gleam of the fire, a young man twitched in his sleep, his brow pleating as the vivid images of his dream took him from the restless darkness of a vast Norman castle to a smaller, intimate chamber in his family’s Berkshire keep at Hamstead.

He was five years old, wearing his best blue tunic, and his mother was clutching him to her bosom as she exhorted him in a cracking voice to be a good boy. ‘Remember that I love you, William.’ She squeezed him so tightly that he could hardly breathe. When she released him they both gasped, he for air, she fighting tears. ‘Kiss me and go with your father,’ she said.

Setting his lips to her soft cheek, he inhaled her scent, sweet like new mown hay. Suddenly he didn’t want to go and his chin began to wobble.

‘Stop weeping, woman, you’re unsettling him.’

William felt his father’s hand come down on his shoulder, hard, firm, turning him away from the sun-flooded chamber and the gathered domestic household, which included his three older brothers, Walter, Gilbert and John, all watching him with solemn eyes. John’s lip was quivering too.

‘Are you ready son?’

He looked up. Lead from a burning church roof had destroyed his father’s right eye and melted a raw trail from temple to jaw, leaving him with an angel’s visage one side, and the gargoyle mask of a devil on the other. Never having known him without the scars, William accepted them without demur.

‘Yes, sir,’ he said and was rewarded by a kindling gleam of approval from John Marshal’s one eye.

‘Brave lad.’

In the courtyard the grooms were waiting with the horses. Setting his foot in the stirrup, John Marshal swung astride and leaned down to scoop William into the saddle before him. ‘Remember that you are the son of the King’s Marshal and the nephew of the Earl of Salisbury,’ his father said as he nudged his stallion’s flanks and he and his troop clattered out of the keep. William was intensely aware of his father’s broad, battle-scarred hands on the reins and the bright embroidery decorating the wrists of the tunic.

‘Will I be gone a long time?’ his dream self asked in a high treble.

‘That depends on how long King Stephen wants to keep you.’

‘Why does he want to keep me?’

‘Because I made him a promise to do something and he wants you beside him until I have kept that promise.’ His father’s voice was as harsh as a sword blade across a whetstone. ‘You are a hostage for my word of honour.’

‘What sort of promise?’

William felt his father’s chest spasm and heard a grunt that was almost laughter. ‘The sort of promise that only a fool would ask of a madman.’

Read the rest of chapter one.

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