Friday, September 11, 2009

The Greatest Knight

Chadwick, Elizabeth. 2009. The Greatest Knight: The Unsung Story of The Queen's Champion. Sourcebooks. 560 pages.

In the dark hour before dawn, all the shutters in the great hall were closed against the evil vapours of the night.

While I've seen some great reviews of this one lately, I just have to be honest and say that while I enjoyed certain aspects of it (the last two hundred pages or so) I had some problems connecting with this one. Whose fault is this? Well, probably a bit of both--me and the author. But I'm willing to take my fair share of the blame.

I love historical fiction--hypothetically speaking--though that can depend on the time period it's set. This time period (twelfth century) is new to me. Henry and Eleanor and their royal offspring are ones I'm not familiar with. Well, unless you count 'being familiar' as this--Disney's Robin Hood. I doubt the real Prince John sat around sucking his thumb and talking to a slithering, hissing snake.

Do you have to be familiar with the historical characters of the time period before sitting down and getting cozy with a historical novel? No, not really. Not absolutely. But if I'd found this little time line sooner, it might have made a difference. I don't know that it would have made me care. But at least I wouldn't have been confused.

So what is it about? It's a novelization of the life of William Marshal. He was a knight who served several kings (and queens) of England. We get details, details, and more details. But here's the thing with details. If you care about the characters, then you can easily care about the details. They're a good thing. If you don't care about the characters, well, then they tend to bore you. And since I felt disconnected from William for the first two thirds of the book, well, I found it dry and boring and a struggle. I became impatient with it. I'll admit that. Does that mean that you will be impatient with it? No! Of course not.

What did I like about this book? YES, I did like SOME things about this one. I liked the last third of the novel. Once Henry II dies, his two sons Richard and John have a power struggle. This is where the story becomes slightly familiar thanks to Errol Flynn and good old Disney. Richard, the king, heads off on the crusades, and Prince John makes a play for the throne. This is also the section where William marries and begins having a family of his own. So there is some romance to go with the politics.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Becky said...

That's too bad. I was really looking forward to reading this one. If you want to read another great historical fiction you should check out Lloyd Lofthouse's latest book, "My Splendid Concubine." It is a story about China during the time of the opium wars. I learned a lot, plus the romance between the main character (the master) and his servant was wonderful. I can't wait to read the sequel, 'Our Hart' when it comes out. Just thought I would share.

Bookfool said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughts because they're so dramatically different from my own! I'm seriously dim about history and went into The Greatest Knight knowing absolutely nothing about the time period. But, I felt like it was a learning experience and I didn't have any trouble jumping into that particular time without any real knowledge. On the other hand, maps and a glossary would have been helpful. I forgot to mention that in my review.

PolishOutlander said...

I've only read one book by Elizabeth Chadwick, Daughters of the Grail. It introduced me to the Cathars, of whom I had never even known about. I found it particularly fascinating. I have several other books by her, but not this one. Just based off the one book and looking at the subject matter of her other books, she clearly writes historical fiction of time periods that people might not be familiar with, which is great cause you get to learn along the way as well. I'll have to check this one out as well anyway, seeing as it's available in the US now.