The Winter Mantle, Elizabeth Chadwick
This was another fast paced work of wonderfully blended history and fiction from Elizabeth Chadwick. While my rating may not show it, this was a good book. There were just a few things that brought my overall rating down. It is the true story of Waltheof of Huntington, an English lord held hostage by William of Normandy after the Battle of Hastings, and his Norman bride Judith, William's niece. After finally marrying the woman of dreams, Waltheof realizes that she is not as wonderful as she originally appeared. After many turbulent years of marriage and children, Judith eventually makes a decision that seals Waltheof's fate. As their daughter Matlida grows, she desperately wants to avoid the situation her parents ended up in.
This is a wonderfully written book with great descriptions and details and good character development. Chadwick really excels at making the past come alive for the reader in her descriptions of all things in the medieval world. Surprisingly, there really are no "villains" in the story, just some really annoying and arrogant people (Judith's mother for one). Waltheof is honorable and quite likable though his one weakness, his inability to think before he acts, lands him in trouble again and again. Sometimes I just wanted to shake him and tell him to wake up. Judith starts out as a character I could feel a bit sorry and cheer for because of what she puts up with from her mother. She appears to be a loving, kind-hearted girl who just wants to find love - until she and Waltheof marry. This is where my rating on the book began to drop. Once married, Judith morphs into a horrid, shrewish person I wished Waltheof would slap some sense into (or just slap for that matter). Her constant arrogance over her Norman blood being better than Waltheof's English really made me dislike her. The unending scorn she held for the Simon de Senlis, the boy Waltheof saved, was really irritating as she felt he kept showing up just to make her feel guilty about the part she played in it. She really turned into her mother. It was hard for me to comprehend how someone could change so drastically and so quickly. After her roll in Waltheof's downfall I had absolutely no pity or sympathy left for her. At this point I was a bit confused because the story switches and focuses on Waltheof and Judith's daughter, Matilda. While this was a complete change and not what I was expecting from the book, Matilda's story was enjoyable to read. The whole episode dealing with her marriage to a friend of her father's, just to get away from her mother was priceless (and I liked seeing Judith get what was coming to her). It was interesting to see how she matured and tried to avoid the mistakes her mother made.
This was a good story, as usual, from Elizabeth Chadwick but not one of my favorites. The change in Judith's character was a huge swing that left me scratching my head a bit. The chemistry between her and Waltheof was so wonderful to read about in the beginning but then it just disappeared. I really loved reading about Waltheof and hated the way he was treated by the woman he loved. The switch in the focus of the story was a bit of a shock as well, though Matilda's story was interesting to read. Those two issues though are what brought my overall rating down on this book.