Publisher: Sphere (Little, Brown)
First Published: 1994; re-printed and edited 2007
Date Reviewed: 7th March 2016
Joscelin’s been a mercenary for years but when he gets in a fight with a man who accuses him of trying to carry off his wife, things start to change. The man, now dead, leaves a widow and child and they will need taking care of. And in the background is the conflict between Joscelin and his half-brothers – Joscelin is the child of his father’s other woman – and the fight between the king and his son.
Shields Of Pride is one of Chadwick’s earlier novels, recently reprinted, that deals with completely fictional characters. It’s a fair book but far outmatched by some of her others.
The history is as strong as always; Chadwick’s knack for throwing the reader back in time is just as good here as elsewhere. The details ensure an almost film-like, immersed quality, and the two main characters are stunning. Particularly Joscelin. Chadwick’s hero is fully medieval. Unlike some of her books wherein the hero is a historical dream, inevitably very similar to her other historical dream heroes, and sometimes a little too modern in sensibility, Joscelin is simply a medieval man. He’ll fight to the death, no holds barred and in anger, then kiss his wife who, similarly unaffected by any misplaced modernity, doesn’t comment on the fight and happily follows him to bed. If it feels like the book lacks any nicety, it’s for good reason.
Not so good is the plot. One could say there isn’t a plot, just a scene, a man who takes to wife the woman whose husband he killed, and their resulting average life together; indeed if that were it it would be fine – and it is for a good chunk of pages. What happens, then, is that the story begins to drag and continues to drag until the end. Unnecessary minor conflicts are conveniently added to, it can only be assumed, lengthen it. (The book would have made a lovely novella.) Fights happen then life happens then fight happens and rinse, repeat; you can see the conflicts coming a mile off. Each battle is meticulously detailed but as you know who is going to win you could skip them if you wanted to. It’s hard to say there’s a climax because the end of the book is a lot weaker than the middle.
Amongst this is the family set-up: Joscelin is the lauded, loved, out-of-wedlock oldest son whose father treats his wife and younger sons badly. The initial introduction works – you’re introduced to the hurt wife who had to live in the footsteps of the other woman (who lived with them) and the official heirs who are constantly criticised because their mother was married out of duty and isn’t loved. The thing here is that these people are rightly angry and it’s well established that they have reason, but as the book carries on they are written more and more as crazy bad guys who are too hateful and as much as one might agree that they shouldn’t blame the messenger for the faults of the sender it all becomes a bit too hubble bubble toil and trouble, and a bit too good versus evil. Add to this the young-skinny-woman and older-large-woman divide and the release date shows.
Where Shields Of Pride works, then, is in the afore-mentioned factual hero and the history. It works as a generally upbeat, escapist read, that doesn’t demand anything of you, but shouldn’t be picked instead of others.
March 23, 2016, 5:32 pm
I do enjoy historical fiction, and while perhaps this is not the one to start with, I do really want to try something by this author.
March 29, 2016, 10:03 am
Jessica: I think you’d enjoy her work. I’ve haven’t read all of them, about eight to go, but I’d recommend The Champion or Lords Of The White Castle. The latter is pretty action-packed in regards to battles and adventures, the former is simply a very good book.