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Elizabeth Chadwick's style of writing is addictive and this is never truer than in "The Greatest Knight". The story follows William Marshall from his boyhood and tells of his traumas as a child and his exploits as a young man right up to his trusted relationship with the King of England. Elizabeth Chadwick obviously researches her subject well, as William was indeed a real character and she uses historical writings to base her story around. Of course she fills in the gaps with pure fiction but this is a well-written and very readable book. It is the first of a two-part series, the second being "The Scarlet Lion" which takes us through to William's death. Some of her other books also touch on William Marshalls story, i.e., A Place of Courage and her latest book to defy a King. The author brings this historical figure to life and by the time you are a couple of chapters into the book you feel that you know this character personally and can laugh and cry with him. If you love history this is the book for you - I believe it is also available as an Audio Book. In all I highly recommend this book to all avid history fans and defy you not to empathise and be rooting for the character of William Marshall, and love this book and indeed this wonderful author!
Elizabeth Chadwick is one of the new type of historical authors who have resurrected a few now forgotten names from the past. Historical fiction is a relatively new genre, really sparked off by Ellis Peters with her Cadfael novels and continued by Phillippa Gregory. When I was a lad, one of the few notable historical characters who weren't royality were Thomas Beckett, Wat Tyler, Simon De Montford and William Marshall. Thats not a long list when you consider how famous the various kings and queens were at the time, so it might be an indication of how important that were that their name has been remembered. Now William Marshall is remembered as the knight paramour, pretty much the personification of the knight gallant fictionalised by Thomas Mallory in his Arthurian legends. Here is a man who was the personal knight of one king (Henry II), and though fiercelessly loyal to the king at the time was of such a noble character to be accepted by both Henry's sons even though Marshall had fought against them. Thats the man, the times are the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th, this is one of the Englands key moments Henry II is king of not just England but huge tracts of France making him the dominant European king. Marshall is his marshall, or his controller of his court, a man in his thirties but unbowed at the joust and unbeaten in battle. The man who history would remember as the only man to unhorse Richard I. Marshall is the son of the previous Marshall, a man called John FitzGilbert, who Chadwick has also chronicled. We first meet William as a very young man, who is given as a sign of assurance by his father before betraying the king. Technically his fathers actions should have led to William being killed by Stephen, his father famously quipped "I can have more sons" but Stephen shows his compassion and does not kill the boy. From this moment on William turns all his skills to be the best knight in the realm and his story would become one of legend. So thats the context, how did Elizabeth Chadwick place him in it? Well the writing is whort on real tension or heavy on explanations/dialogue but she keeps the story light and frothy. Yes this is a time of huge importance but the personal story of William shines through, through him we meet his wife, mistresses, his philosophy on honour and dedication. Chadwicks writing is one that will never lead to literary awards but is a classic page turner, chapters are short and to the point, the characters well drawn out but perhaps without the true in depth analysis but as a readable story it certainly passes any test. Marshall was living 800 years ago and of course records are sparse, this gives a writer a problem and a help, problems are facts and boring people like me reading the story and tutting every now and again because its historically inaccurate. However, this sparsity can be a help because the author can be well let their imaginations fly so to speak. This novel is a perfect mix of this, its a bit romantic and the times are made to feel as though everything would be easy which I suspect to be a bit rose tinted. However, as a historical novel looking at the first half of the mans life then it does the trick, it descibes his character, the times he lived in and what effect he had on the people around him. This is the first half of a two piece work, the second The Scarlet Lion completes his life story.
Hailed in Chadwick's afterword as "The David Beckham of the Medival Age", William Marshal lived an action-packed and tumultous life full of loyalty to his King amidst treachery and jealous back-stabbing from his peers. Unbeaten in all the Competition Tourneys he entered, he rightfully earned a reputation for integrity, honour and respect during his time which saw him become The Earl Of Leciester in recognition for his servitude to the monarchy. The Greatest Knight is the first of two novels Chadwick has written abvout him and either can be read as a stand-alone story or as part of a greater whole and still be enjoyed... I was not sure what to expoect when I picked this up as a swap recently but was suitably impressed and intrigued by the synopsis and great reviews on Amazon which seem to praise Chadwick as a major writing talent in the field of historical fiction. Certainly this is a very easy (but long) read that catches you up in the moment and refuses to let you go. Reading this, you almost feel transported to another age and time and this is a sign that an author has really gotten you hooked and achieved what they set out to do with the first few chapters. Sometimes important moments and events are glossed over and recounted to us as one character talks to another (much as was the case in Stephen Saylor's Roma) and this can be annoying as you want to read about the action as though you were in the thick of it yourself but to be fair, to go into the full details of everything that happened to Marshall would increase the length of this book even further and there is so much to cram in here that is already a thick novel. Not to mention the fact that there is already so much to portray in Marshall's life that the story has to be spread over two volumes! This is about as realistic and enjoyable account of life in Medieval times as you are ever going to find. It is not a difficult book to pick up and is worth every penny you spend on it. Though Chadwick takes some liberty with the facts and uses her own imagination in one or two passages, these are few and far between and the main majority of the story told here is based on established historical fact and records. Certainly, she takes less liberty than some other historical fiction authors and the end result is a very accomplished novel! You are not going to get much better written historical tales than this...