The Scarlet Lion, Elizabeth Chadwick
Yet another brilliant masterpiece by Elizabeth Chadwick! I absolutely could not put this book down. It kept me on the edge of my seat throughout and in tears at the end. Once again we are treated to the incredible talent of Ms. Chadwick; her weaving together of fiction and research are flawless. Here she continues the amazing story of William Marshal, taking him deep into the reign of King John and all the treachery of his court.
After the untimely death of Richard I, John comes to the throne, bringing with him a crazy and unearned distrust of Marshal. Through out the book John is constantly trying to entrap Marshal into committing treason so he can take away everything he (Marshal) has earned throughout his life. Not only does Marshal have to struggle with John's devious tactics in England, he also has to deal with holding and strengthening Isabelle's lands in Ireland. During all these travels and struggles, William and Isabelle nurture their large and growing family and we see their struggles as parents as well. Throughout John's turbulent reign, which includes the Baron's Revolt and Magna Carta, the Marshals manage (barely) to keep their heads above water and are able to find more security and stability in the early years of John's son Henry III's reign.
At the end of the previous novel about Marshal (The Greatest Knight) we get a glimpse of the beginning of his marriage to Isabelle de Clare. This novel covers their life together in fantastic detail, showing all the ups and downs of a noble marriage which just happens to be a love match. In a time when most women, even noble women, were looked on as mere possessions, Marshal truly loved his wife and listened to her opinions and ideas. The descriptions of their relationship are so touching and emotional. Not only do we see their life together with their children, we also see how the political struggles of the time affect the different members of the family. Ms. Chadwick is a master at taking people from a time very distant from our own and making them come alive for the reader. I absolutely loved William Marshal and his family and I hated King John for the constant grief he gave them. John really is a despicable and devious character and I hated him; he was truly evil. All the characters in the novel are very well developed and it really helps give you a better understanding of why a particular character behaved in a certain way (except of John of course). I actually enjoyed this novel better than its prequel (though I enjoyed that one immensely); I just felt that the plot here moved along a lot quicker and, in my opinion, contained quite a bit more action, though not in the form of numerous battles as you see in TGK. There was a lot more tension, suspense, and uncertainty in this part of Marshal's life so I am sure that plays a major part. I also really enjoyed how much of the story is told from Isabelle's perspective; it was fascinating to see how strong this lady was in the face of so much adversity.
I think one of the things that makes this book so outstanding is the wonderful blend of historical accuracy, amazing writing, love, honor, intrigue, and wonderful characters. I would recommend this to any reader as it is truly marvelous and one that shouldn't be missed. While this is a sequel to The Greatest Knight the two books can stand on their own...but really, who wouldn't want to read more about William Marshal?
Ms. Chadwick's next book To Defy a King is the story of William and Isabelle's daughter Mahelt.