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Elizabeth Chadwick – The Marsh King’s Daughter

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For richer, for poorer, whether worked for or stolen.

Publisher: Sphere (Little Brown)
Pages: 406
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-7515-3940-0
First Published: 1999
Date Reviewed: 22nd February 2012
Rating: 4.5/5

Miriel had never seen eye to eye with her parents and, being unable to deal with her as both his daughter and the object of his lust, her step-father throws her into a convent. But Miriel won’t be staying – this she decides immediately. On finding a wounded man and bringing him to the convent, she comes up with a plan. Nicholas, for his part, is on the run from his captors, and upon leaving the convent goes in search of the treasure he had taken and hidden. When he sees Miriel following he agrees to guard her passage – but just as he didn’t bet on falling for her, he also didn’t bet on her running off with the money.

The Marsh King’s Daughter contains a very different story to other books by Chadwick you may have read. Set in the midst of bustling towns and featuring a cold ancient convent and merchant trips across the sea, it is quite the world away from tales of castles and battles for land. Indeed the book sports a somewhat nautical narrative that provides a good if brief background to medieval shipping.

There is a lot of content about commerce, with plenty of looks at the economy at large and the day-to-day workings of production and trade. This is not only a boon for the story, it also sets further background context for the era that Chadwick favours.

The author likes a brave hero, one who is strong and has morals that fit our present day, yet is undoubtedly a historical person. Nicholas is the subject this time and while he is not as spotlight stealing as Miriel – neither, for that matter, as stubborn – he nevertheless is someone to root for. Miriel is stubborn, as said, sometimes a little too much, but then she is always aware of the discomfort of her position as a female business owner. The characters are delightful and hateful in turn, and as always Chadwick has created memorable personalities. Some of them even truly existed.

The setting and subjects in the book make it perhaps more detailed than others, but it allows for a study into gender roles in the Middle Ages, and shows what could happen when they were turned on their head.

The romance is complex. It’s a case of wondering what could have been while making up for time. So of course memories surface, and there is a sort of anti-romance in the marriage Miriel makes. Miriel’s husband is another good blend of medieval and modern only in his case Chadwick makes things not as positive. Possession is nine tenths of the law.

The book is good in the way that it can command interest, however towards the end it’s easy to wonder why it is still going, even if the inevitable ending is yet to come. There is a lot of angst that is heartbreaking but it fits the story and characters. Miriel is a trooper but her decisions can be hard to comprehend for their foolhardiness. Though sometimes it is the decision of others that are hard to swallow and the reader is presented with the tough lives lead before equality and healthcare.

The Marsh King’s Daughter succeeds in creating a detailed vision of the trading business and of illustrating the way people at the lower to middle section of society communicated and treated one another. And it delves into piratical realms often forgotten about. Miriel may not allow the crown out of her sight, but Chadwick can at least add a feather to her cap.

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March 3, 2012, 7:13 pm

This does sound quite different to the other Chadwick books I’ve read (The Greatest Knight, The Champion and Lords of the White Castle). This type of setting actually appeals to me more than castles and battles, so I think I might enjoy this one.

Charlie: While the whole castle/fort idea can be interesting, it does limit the view to the higher classes, whereas from a merchant’s point of view you’re going to run into all types of lives without the neighbour tension. There is a vibrancy in this one that would be hard to find in landowner-based stories.

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