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Elizabeth Chadwick – Lords Of The White Castle

Book Cover

The lovers are married in a ceremony lasting minutes and then flee from the king. It’s the stuff fairytales are made of.

Publisher: Sphere (Little Brown)
Pages: 673
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-7515-3939-4
First Published: 2000
Date Reviewed: 21st March 2011
Rating: 4.5/5

The Fitzwarin family seat was at Whittington until it was taken from them. For years Fulke’s father strove to regain it but when he died it was still in the hands of another and thus Fulke and his brothers took over the fight. Yet Whittington doesn’t remain the only thing in the young man’s mind and once he meets Maude, who he’d first come across when she was a headstrong girl of twelve, his loyalty will be split.

Something that may interest you to know, and to give you a general sense of the book, is that the man this book is based on, Fulke Fitzwarin III, is one of the possibilities for the inspiration of the legend of Robin Hood.

For the longest time I lingered on the fence between wanting to review this novel to let you know how good it is, and not wanting to review it because the idea of reviewing Chadwick’s work seems to me blasphemous. It is just so difficult to explain how amazing her creations are, and indeed the first book I read of hers, Shadows And Strongholds, has still not seen a review from me since two autumns ago when I read it.

The success of the book, above anything else, above the themes, even above the story, is the way that Chadwick makes the history accessible. The style of writing doesn’t so much invite you as envelope you without warning into the world in the book, Chadwick’s style is very much show rather than tell and the details she goes into about the domestic life mean that imaging everything is delightfully simple. Unlike many books where you can be hard pressed to create a whole picture of the scene in your mind, Chadwick’s work fills you in on everything; you hear about the different weapons, the way clothes were made, the cultural traditions such as the bedding ceremony. And as you can no doubt tell from the way I have written it, this paragraph applies just as much to her other books as it does to Lords Of The White Castle.

Because there is not much factual information to go on, and what information there is about the Fitzwarin’s cannot always be trusted, it was inevitable that Chadwick would adopt a more fictional outlook than authors who write of later periods. As someone who thrives on historical fiction that is more or less factual I have to say that it really doesn’t matter here, and dates are included which makes it easier if you later wish to research the factual elements.

The book takes a while to come into it’s own but the lead up to the romance is far from boring, the reader is provided with all the necessary background details and then some, and the characters are strong and well developed. When the romance does enter fully the narrative speeds along because of everything else that is going on. It’s thrilling. Perhaps the best aspects are the times the characters know they are assuming a stereotype and exploit it magnificently.

Fulke smiled at the apprehension in Ivo’s voice. Put his brother in the midst of a melee or ask him to charge across open ground at opposing cavalry and he would not balk. But give him the massive greenery of the Welsh mountain forests and the possibility of wild Welshmen lurking in ambush and he became as anxious as a nun in a brothel.

Humour places a substantial role, although you wouldn’t call the book a comedy. There are some great lines in the story and the metaphors tend to enlist the time period.

“You may seduce me as much as I like,” she declared with a wrinkle of her nose, “but not until we are wed.”

The sex scenes in the book often take place “behind the curtain” so to speak, but when they don’t they are hot and sensual. This doesn’t mean it is erotic fiction, and the words used are not crass, but Chadwick goes further than many romances.

The characters are strong, and Maude, the leading lady, strives to be on a par with her husband – apart from societal constraints, they are equals. There is a brilliant scene where Maude pulls out her crossbow and, after seeing her husband’s hesitation, reminds him that she is better than most men. If you’re looking for a kick-arse chick, you’ll find one here. Fulke is just as good, his dialogue is often priceless and his manner admirable, at least usually. And to bring in the Robin Hood reference I spoke of at the start, Chadwick’s story does include things that relate well to the legend. The rest of the characters are no less developed and the Fitzwarin household and their allies are a joy to read about.

Unsurprisingly Lords Of The White Castle deals with social issues, including the differences in gender. Chadwick generally lets the laws of the period hold sway but often points to times when men were happy to have their women be knowledgeable in politics. The two elements balance well and from her 20th century position she illustrates how some people were ahead of their time. Poignant is the retort made by a man to his father-in-law that if a woman can marry and run her household then she should be able to own land. It strikes as similar to many of the debates we have today regarding the placement of age restrictions, such being able to drive and be married before having the right to vote.

The only problem I had with the book was its length. It carries on for a long while after the threads are tied and although you can understand why it does, because Chadwick is wanting to present you with her version of the relationships, after the afore mentioned threads are tied there is nothing particularly interesting to keep reading for.

Lords Of The White Castle brings a piece of history that is often forgotten to life and fills in the gaps with fiction that is interesting, fun, and believable. If you are at all interested in swords and shields or if you have ever wanted to travel back in time and live in the medieval period then this book for you. And if you’re anything like me then the idea of bread and cheese becomes an incredibly viable option for dinner when hunger strikes and you have to put the book down.

Marketplaces, kings, tournaments, traditional cooking methods, and knights in shining armour coming to rescue their lovers. It’s all here.

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April 15, 2011, 1:04 am

Yay! I have this book to read- have had it for quite a while- but haven’t opened it yet. I really like Chadwick’s writing, and I always like reading her stories. I am not a HUGE fan of the Middle Ages except for when I read her books!

Charlie: I’m not too informed about the era, mostly because I prefer Tudor which, coming straight after, leads me to forget the former. I’m like you, I read her books and then I love it!

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