When loyalty to the crown isn’t quite straightforward.
Publisher: Sphere (Little Brown)
First Published: 3rd November 2005
Date Reviewed: 28th May 2012
William Marshal began his career in a position of forced service to King Stephen, but as he got older he became a little more in charge of his dealings, albeit that his service continued to pass down to Stephen’s heirs. First William works for Henry II and Eleanor, then their youngest son, before working directly again for the crown, but it’s not all doom and gloom, at least not in the start when he was able to compete in tourneys and live his youth to the full. But when battles begin for the throne upon Henry II’s death, reality will set in.
The Greatest Knight follows, in a balance of fact and fiction, the life of William Marshal from his days as a teenage squire, to the point when King Richard the Lionheart had to fight against his younger brother John for the right to rule. But although this is the first book of two regarding William’s life (first in a series actually, though two is the number that focus solely on William) there is not a lot in this book that recommends its title. Yes William is loyal, at all times, and proves a reliable militant, but it is never apparent from his actions how he could have been the greatest knight. Of course the title was created for the book and not necessarily ever applied to Marshal in his time, but it is still cause for thought because of its usage.
There is a plot, of sorts, but William’s life in this book is more a series of political meetings, the combat mainly left to afterthoughts. William’s life seems to meander along, and while he makes for a very likeable hero, the stories he recounts sometimes give you the feeling that those people ought to be given more time for their stories are more exciting.
And unfortunately, it takes until about four fifths of the way into the book for the story to pick up. This comes in the form of William’s marriage, a ceremony and plot point that greatly enhances his ability to intrigue the reader because no longer is it only his thoughts, of a man in relative security, that you can listen to – and this is something that Chadwick does to great effect, her female characters tending to be on the strong side. William’s family make the story much better and it is perhaps a pity that Chadwick decided to include so much of his life before he married. The good thing is that as the first of two books, you can be sure that the next is going to be a lot more involving, and especially as the book ends with a proposed battle, that things are going to pick up in the narrative too.
To be sure The Greatest Knight doesn’t follow the usual path of romance, there are scenes of a romantic and sexual nature dotted here and there, but unlike many of Chadwick’s other books, this one focuses on society, dynastic disputes, and general politics, in a far more detailed way than when the hero or heroine has a partner throughout.
What there is here is a lot of information about England and English France in the 1100s. Yes, a little is fictional when needs must, but the book is incredibly factual, and that it looks at the rivalry between royal members from an outsider angle, brings new life to an old topic. Chadwick presents her royal charges from a generally unbiased viewpoint, and whilst one may surmise that, when it comes to Marshal at least, she favours Richard over John, she nevertheless gives each equal time to pitch their beliefs and reasoning to the reader through William’s thoughts and dialogue.
However whilst reading you can’t help but remember that there’s a second book, and that the promise of a blossoming romance meaning more main characters, and the fact (because it’s historical fact) that the politics is going to get a lot more interesting, means that you want to rush through this first book for the wrong reasons. For now, at least, the knight in question is more “good” than “great”.
May 30, 2012, 7:47 pm
What an interesting blog! So glad to have found you through your comment on my blog. :) I’m always looking for new books to read.
May 30, 2012, 9:32 pm
I read this last year and enjoyed it. I still haven’t got round to reading the sequel though!
June 1, 2012, 12:37 am
I’m glad to read your opinion of this. I have had it downloaded on my nook for quite some time, I think it was a freebie? but I haven’t yet read it.
However, I’m not sure if I told you how very much I enjoyed Inspector Iminishi Investiages which was a book you’d recommended from way back. It was awesome! And, in case you’re interested, the Japanese Literature Challenge 6 begins tomorrow. :)
June 1, 2012, 3:46 pm
Shaina: Thanks! Likewise :) Guest posts are so good for finding new bloggers.
Helen: As much as I found it average, I’ve got the sequel in my bookcase and am so tempted to read it now. In fact the only thing stopping me is the fact that I’ve no other completed reviews at the moment and don’t want this blog to be Chadwick-centric (so much opportunity for it being that way).
Bellezza: I remember seeing that it was free for the Nook for a few days, so you’re undoubtedly right there :) I keep a check on the JLit challenge though haven’t joined it, would like to some time though as I’m already a big fan of the country’s music!