The Greatest Knight, Elizabeth Chadwick
I could not wait to get my hands on this highly recommended book. Having encountered William Marshal in Sharon Kay Penman's trilogy about Henry and Eleanor, I was anxious to read about his life and I was not disappointed. Elizabeth Chadwick brings to life a truly remarkable person in William Marshal. Ladies, beware! You may just develop a crush!
The story covers his early years as a young knight in a lord's household, his years perfecting his skills in the tournaments and the fame it brought him, his time as a knight with the "Young King," Henry II's oldest son, through his marriage to Isabelle de Clare, and the early part of Richard I's reign. Most of the novel focuses on William's time with Henry, the "Young King" and his many interactions with the volatile Plantagenet family. He becomes a valuable and trusted adviser not only to the Young King but to Henry II, Eleanor the Queen, and even to Richard I, though we don't see but the very beginnings of this relationship in this book.
In true Chadwick style, this was beautifully written with great descriptive writing, especially when dealing with William's feelings. The descriptions of not only the sights, sounds, and smells of the medieval world but of the secrets, jealousy, and sly maneuvering within the politics of the day really plunge the reader right into the middle of the twelfth century. Marshal really was revered as the greatest knight of his time, known for his honesty, loyalty, and exceptional prowess with a sword, so there was no need for embellishment, which makes it that much more amazing. We really see how William grows and matures throughout the course of the story, overcoming several instances of suspicion, betrayal, and even capture, and we can see how he struggles to make the right choices. I have to admit that the first part of the story, while moving along at a very fast pace, dragged for me a bit (hence the rating of only 4.5 roses), though that has everything to do with the fact that I am not that interested in learning the ins and outs of medieval tournament life and nothing to do with Chadwick's storytelling. However, once the intrigue surrounding Henry II's sons begins to simmer, the story really picks up. William is caught in the middle of the rebellions against Henry, trying to stay loyal to the Young King, Henry II, and even to Eleanor of Aquitaine; not an easy feat. I'd have to say my favorite part of the book comes very near the end, when he marries Isabelle de Clare. By historical accounts she was twenty something years younger than William when they married but it appears they had a good marriage and relationship. I absolutely loved the interaction between the two. The way he treats her and keeps her in his confidences and decision making is really touching (and where ladies are going to fall in love with him!).
My only beef with the book was that it ended! I can not wait to get the sequel, The Scarlet Lion, which covers the rest of William's life during the reign's of Richard I and his younger brother, King John. I would highly recommend this book to any lovers of medieval historical fiction, the middle ages, the Plantagenet, etc, etc. It really is that good and its true!