Elizabeth Chadwick has long been one of my favourite authors. Lords of the White Castle is the first book of hers that I read many years ago, and I have been hooked on her work ever since!
From the moment that I read the blurb for The Champion I was hooked:
"Fleeing a scandalous chapter of clerical corruption at an English monastery, young Alexander de Montroi arrives in Normandy in the spring of 1103, desperate to become one of the great knights who live by their jousting swords. For those who show exceptional talent, there are fortunes and hearts to be won, and Alexander proves himself adept at both."
If a novel was written specifically for me, this would be it; knights, jousting and courtly love combine to make a plot that is perfectly suited to my tastes. I think my love for A Knight's Tale and Robin Hood has made me more than a little biased towards this era of history.
First things first I have to say that I adore the cover! I bought a few of Chadwick's books at the same time and they all have covers like these; I love how the entire focus is on the gorgeous dress. What makes Chadwick's work so wonderful is her evocative descriptions. From the mud soaked tourney fields to the intricate braiding on a lady's dress- no detail is left out, and yet you never feel overwhelmed with information; on the contrary you can picture the scene as if you were looking at a picture.
I have read a few reviews that critique Chadwick's depiction of female characters as passive and uninspiring, and although I don't entirely agree it has to be said that it is always her male characters that I grow attached to. In this case, I found myself falling for Alexander as he underwent his transformation from a penniless ex-monk into a successful knight, and although I had no problems with Monday, I did question some of her decisions.
The darker side of this novel lies in the corruption and depravity of the monastery that Alexander ran away from, a place that comes back to haunt him. There is also, of course, a knight who has strayed to the dark side- but this is no darkly handsome and brooding Count Adhemar; this one is irredeemable.
The balance of action and romance make Chadwick's novels more than your standard historical romance (which I have absolutely no problem with). She doesn't shy away from describing exactly what goes on during combat and death, and even sex and childbirth. What you get is a complete picture of an episode of medieval life, albeit a fictional one, interspersed with real historical figures to bring it further to life. Many of Chadwick's works feature Prince John and Richard the Lionheart, two of my favourite historical characters - another reason perhaps why I am so biased towards her work. The Summer Queen, the first in a trilogy of novels about the life of their mother Eleanor of Aquitaine also by Chadwick, is also nearing the top of my to-read pile.
Lords of the White Castle has long been the benchmark for Chadwick's work in my opinion, and as much as I love all of her books none of them have ever quite surpassed it. The Champion, however, comes pretty close! The story may be a little predictable in places but I have no issue with that; I'm always satisfied with a good old fashioned happy ending.
5/5 stars - Perfect escapism for a cold winter's night, The Champion is a worthy addition to the bookshelf of any historical fiction enthusiast, and it's chivalric ideals of knightliness and enduring love will appeal to even the most cynical romantic.