Two Normans may be able to work out their relationship given time, but add Wales to the mix along with a lot of angry kin and life is unlikely to go smoothly.
Publisher: Sphere (Little Brown)
First Published: 1990
Date Reviewed: 12th December 2011
Please note that this is a review of the updated version of the book, which, it seems, was published in 2008.
When Guyon attempts to gain his uncle’s lands through supplication to the king, he is granted them – on the condition that he marries a particular girl. Judith is the sole heir to her father’s domain and the king wants to be sure that there will not be a war over it. In marrying Judith, Guy gives up his mistress for a fifteen-year-old girl. Judith is terrified of marriage, having witnessed the violence of her father towards her mother and the slap of his hand to herself. But that isn’t the only issue Guyon will have to deal with – the king may have ordered the marriage to aid relations, but Judith’s extended family aren’t about to let the lands pass to another.
In this, Chadwick’s very first novel, we see all the talent that she has continued to wield to this day, only here it is targeted towards absolute fiction. Whereas in her later novels Chadwick focuses on real people in history, here she creates the main characters from scratch and makes use of history for secondary characters. And her weavings in and out between the factual and fictional are flawless. She references many real events and has Guyon and Judith join them, and looks too to legends, such as that concerning William II’s sexuality.
The book is drenched in the issues that arose from the Norman conquest of the British Isles, there are insults between the Welsh and the Normans – and Chadwick makes the story of Guyon’s ex-mistress a part of this by having her and her family mock his Norman wife – as well as touching on the murder of William II and the rise to power of his son Henry. In the latter case she puts forward a comical version of why the eldest son was unable to inherit the throne, which aligns, in its treatment, with fact.
Something that is important to mention is that although Chadwick creates her own characters from their historical bases, for example she creates the character of Henry I, one never feels that she is turning history on its head. A quick bit of research on the reader’s part proves that Chadwick has thought through her book and written it in accordance with real life.
Although the book is character-driven, the world building is, to use an old word given new life in our modern age, epic. It is so easy to be engrossed in it all that you can forget where you are in the present day. Neither does it take long to get into the story. As the story is based in battles and family feuds there is little time to get to know the common people but there is enough on the workings of settlements to keep the budding historian interested.
And while Chadwick is a modern author and often uses elements that are more acceptable to a modern audience, there is never a case of changing history to suit today’s principles and political correctness. An example of this would be Chadwick’s description of her heroine as a fast learner and able fighter – while not by any means reflective of medieval society at large it is nonetheless easy to believe that some women would have been, and evidence backs this up.
Talking of the heroine, both the main characters are winners. They have chemistry enough to explode any science lab and are not perfect while being totally likeable. As said, Chadwick does not step back from looking at things from the medieval mind set, the marriage is important to both Judith and Guyon, but as Guyon waits for Judith to mature and be ready to accept him in the bedroom, things become difficult. In regards to this issue of Judith’s acceptance, Chadwick spends time detailing effects that are still relevant.
And, as in any Chadwick novel, when they end up in bed there are no holds barred. There are racy scenes, there are curtains drawn in front of the reader, and the innuendo is well written. Chadwick masters all of these scenes brilliantly and even when there isn’t a pressing reason for one, for example when both characters are completely comfortable with each other, they serve to inch the relationship further.
The Wild Hunt is a feast for anyone interested in this period of history. Chadwick’s writing is just something else and her passion emanates from the pages. Whether you are new to her work or a returning admirer, The Wild Hunt is as good a place as any to start.