Set during the years of 1167-1194, it is the middle book in the William Marshal trilogy – preceded by A Place Beyond Courage and followed by The Scarlet Lion.
William Marshal was eulogized during his lifetime as ‘The Greatest Knight who ever lived’. And he was – indeed, probably a celebrity of his day. He was the atypical ‘knight-in-shining-armour’ and lived to be over 70 years old. He would probably all but be forgotten if not for the various works written about him, such as Elizabeth Chadwick’s sumptuous work of fiction that I am reviewing now.
The story goes from William’s early years as a penniless knight, until the 1190s which were the early years of his marriage of Isabelle de Clare. In the book, he is made so human. He comes across as the sort of man you would want to know in the modern world. His life was a game of chance – indeed, he was nearly hung as an infant due to his father’s loyalties to the monarch. His life was dogged constantly by banishment, divided loyalties, fickle kings and difficult family relationships.
Chadwick’s books are superb because scenery is described in detail. People are almost living and breathing. You care about them. It makes you want to learn more about these people and the world they lived in. It was wonderful to see Isabelle and William’s relationship as it developed from polite civility to heart-aching love, which must have been unusual for those times as most marriages were business arrangements.
This book was published in 2005 and I’ve always longed to read it. At last I have.
But one thing sticks out clearly for me. Why haven’t these books been adapted for film yet? Still, a great book that will be sliding its way up my Top 10 list of great books for 2014. Chadwick’s books first got me interested in historical fiction; William Marshal was an honourable man and his type has never been seen again. He is definitely a man I would invite to a hypothetical ‘pie and a pint’, along with Chekhov, but that’s a blogpost for another day.
MY RATING: 5 / 5.