Monday, October 19, 2009

The Greatest Knight

I just finished Elizabeth Chadwick's The Greatest Knight. It's a story about William Marshal, a relatively unknown knight who lived during the era of King Richard I.

It started out great. In fact, I could not get enough of it for the first 300 pages. After awhile, though, I got to the point where I could not stand how perfect William Marshal was. I think there are very few people in history who actually were this perfect. If Marshal really was this perfect, I'm certain we would all know his name better. That is really my only gripe about the book, except that it dragged on a little too long. By the time William met his wife, Isabelle, I was tired of the book. Granted, Chadwick had a lot of years to condense into a book, but there were scenes she could have done without. The whole thing with Clara seemed a little pointless to me (although it was entertaining). In the back of the book Chadwick explains that Clara represents all the women in Marshal's life because it is understood that he probably had mistresses and concubines but it is also true that Marshal respected women so she took the liberty of fictionalizing all of his women into one. Chadwick could have taken out the Clara thing and then focused more on things that were more exciting like the wars and the relationship he has with his older brother John. This relationship becomes important at the end of the book and John is one of the better characters in the book because he has flaws.

Prince John (yes, the same Prince John from the Robin Hood legend) is a little snake in the book. Chadwick characterized him well. For a moment there I thought she was trying to make it seem as though William Marshal was the real-life Robin Hood. I guess, in a sense, he was, but that is not the direction Chadwick went, thankfully.

With all that said, Chadwick's writing is magnificent. She has deft prose and an eye for detail. I could picture everything she wrote because she obviously has a keen perception and a great knowledge of the time period. All in all this is a great historical fiction despite my own misgivings.

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