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Elizabeth Chadwicks novels are historical slightly slushy action/romances, she usually writes about the people and events at the end of the Norman period of English history and the start of the plantagenet period. She writes about characters who are rich and powerful but not members of royalty so they are driven by the events but are powerful enough to have some kind of say in the events of their time. Chadwick has written about knights such as William Marshall and John Marshall, her novels tend to focus on one strong male character but usually feature one or more strong, attractive oddly modern women. These women tend to be the wives of the men and through their strengths gain some kind of say over the events of the their time. The books tend to have a lot of bedroom activity but its not explicit and if it was a film, it would fade out just when the women slinks off her dress.
Thats her usual fare, however, this novel is a bit of a change for her, firstly the character isn't one of the rich and powerful but a simple weaver girl who rescues a man. The man was involved in the infamous event of King John losing his jewel in the Wash in 1216, the loss of his jewels was a death knell for John and he died a few days later. Thats one possible explanation, this treasure has never been found even with the number of metal detectors around so a theory has been around saying he faked the loss to try and hide the fact he'd pawned the jewels previously.
So the girl Miriel rescues Robert and then proceeds to turn herself into a successful weaver/business woman. Miriel is in every way a modern women, she's headstrong, she's pretty, she likes men and likes to be liked by men, she has lovers, husbands, friends and enemies. However, her relationship with Robert the man she saved keeps coming back to haunt her, he is a dodgy character who hid something important when the kings jewels were lost.
Robert is a classic anti-hero, then a hero, then back to being a cad and a trouble causer. Ultimately her has the truth over the kings jewels nad at the end we are shown what happened to the crown jewels.
This is a different kind of book for Chadwick, more down to earth than books about lords, knights and kings but a simple weaver girl who through her intelligence and resourcefulness survives in a turbulent time.
I enjoyed the book as with all Chadwick novels, but the title is a bit misleading as it suggests a Hereward type character maybe a women who sparks off a revolt but in fact it refers to her relationship with Johns lost jewels and the impact it has on her life and her future.
Elizabeth Chadwick is an established writer who has been writing historical fiction since 1989. This particular book is set in the Thirteenth century, and I suppose would best be described as a light romantic romp.
I bought this book as part of a 3 book Chadwick deal from www.bananas.co.uk - £3.50 for this and two other titles from the same author. It tells the story of a young girl, Miriel Weaver and her coming of age through being forced into a nunnery by her stepfather. She saves a young man show has been washed up on the shore after an incident involving the solidiers escorting King John's treasure and the tide. This is a real incident from history, though what happens to the treasure and its involvement with the young man, Nicholas, and our young heroine are the author's imaginings alone.
History by stealth this isn't, however the background, setting of the historical background do seem to be well researched and were quite convincing to me, though I can't claim to be an expert in medieval history. The dialogue is realistic, various words of Olde English being used by the various characters in a fairly natural way.
The story shows the difficulties of being a woman alone in these times as Miriel escapes the confines of the convent only to discover that marriage holds other confines too. She builds up a business and life for herself but is forever aware that she is always governed by men. The characters she meets on the way are well portrayed with Robert becoming a rather good anti-hero. Miriel moves through the worlds of the wool industry, the shipping industry and the more seedy side of medieval society as her story unfolds and all this makes for an interesting read. The novel shows how women faced the difficulties of being in medieval society and the real danger to life that childbirth represented. The author, to me, succeeded in making the world she painted seem very real to me despite it not being set in contemporary times, as a reader I was prepared to accept the world the author had painted.
From what I have said of the subject matter already you will probably have gathered that this is, most probably, more of a read that will appeal to women, though it is not a feminist novel as such.
I wanted Miriel to be able to improve her lot - that she couldn't without romantic involvement was a little annoying to the modern woman in me - but then I suppose this did reflect the times that this novel was set in, and it made for a few more steamy moments in the book which were not too cringe-making, and furthered the story in a satisfactory way.
I certainly enjoyed this book as a lighter read, and am looking forward to reading more by this author. If you enjoy reading books by Phillipa Gregory you probably will enjoy this book too.
Overall I would recommend this book, at the price I paid it was a bargain - it is currently also available at Amazon for £5.99.
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Sphere; New edition edition (2 Nov 2006)
*** The Author ***
Elizabeth Chadwick writes well-researched medieval historical fiction.
As well as other sources, she has had help from members of the early medieval historical re-enactment societies of Regia Anglorum and Conquest. Amongst other experiences, they gave her the opportunity to cook Norman style food. After this experience, she doesn't recommend trying to cook in a posh frock with the hanging sleeves that was fashionable among the wealthy during this period, like one of the characters in this book.
*** Background to Plot ***
This is an action packed historical tale where readers will encounter all aspects of the medieval wool cloth trade from shepherds, to cloth manufacturers and those who deal between them and their customers, who are often overseas. Those transporting the cloth on ships are in danger of encountering pirates, and this leads to exciting battle scenes. Then there is the inevitable lust, occasionally, but not often, mixed with love.
*** Fact & Fiction ***
It is a fact that, in the year 1216, there was an accident involving King John's baggage train in a quick sand area near The Wash (an area off the coast of East Anglia), which resulted in the loss of many precious items. One important treasure, still missing, is the crown of the Empress Mathilda. The chroniclers of the time disagree about whether it was stolen or was lost to sea or quick sand.
Other facts that the author draws on for this story are the highly competitive, often cut-throat nature of the wool merchants business.
I found the way convents got some of their recruits fascinating. Begging the question were the closed orders mainly holy religious groups, or were they primarily keepers of those whom their families wanted rid of? (The nuns in the story are relevant to the wool merchant plot because they keep sheep.)
*** Characters ***
Having read several books by this author, I believe characterisation is one of her main strengths. Her characters don't romanticise the brutality of the time.
Some of the minor characters did exist, including the pirate "Eustace the Monk", but the central ones to this plot are skilfully made-up using her knowledge of the way of life at the time.
Most of the main characters are dominant brutish men, but some do show a little respect for others. I suppose the hardships of the time make it hard to be good and survive. Something that is apparently timeless is a lack of understanding between the main male and female characters. I blame a potentially disastrous misunderstanding on HIS poor communication skills!
The main female character Miriel has a gutsy personality, and longs for independence. In a society where women are mostly regarded as primarily for breeding, this doesn't bode well for her.
My favourite character was a minor one: an elderly female weaver with a grumpy exterior who nevertheless shows she cares about others by sharing the benefit of her vast past experiences with them.
*** Alternatives ***
Elizabeth Chadwick's books are usually about the life of those wealthy enough to have some control of their lives, but not influential enough to greatly influence the course of history.
If you would prefer to read about the rulers of this time, I suggest that you look out of Jean Plaidy's Plantagenet series of books. I think the earlier ones of this series are the best because of the many strong, and diverse, entertaining characters that history provided the author with. (Although I found then entertaining at a distance, I would not have wanted to experience living dangerously close to them though!)
*** Recommendation ***
I am dropping one star from the rating because of the partially predictable ending, but I think that the action packed bulk of this medieval historical fiction book is DEFINITELY WORTH A READ.
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Sphere; New edition edition (2 Nov 2006)