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Revision as of 12:59, 1 June 2010


To Defy A King by Elizabeth Chadwick

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Elaine Dingsdale
Reviewed by Elaine Dingsdale
Summary: Set in the reign of the tyrannical King John, we follow the fortunes of two of the most powerful Baron families in the land, the Marshals and Bigods. Mahelt, daughter of the Marshal, the King’s right hand man, is sent in marriage to the Bigod family - and what started as a politically expedient move for both families, turns into a true love match.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 560 Date: May 2010
Publisher: Sphere
ISBN: 978-1847442369

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Elizabeth Chadwick is frequently referred to as the supreme master of medieval fiction - and this latest offering does not disappoint, and further underlines her very well deserved reputation in this field.

Set in the traumatic and violent period leading up to the Magna Carta, Chadwick concentrates on the fortunes of two extended families. The Marshals, close to the throne for their expertise, political and military might, and the Bigods, who are directly related to King John, through their half brother Longespee, son of the family matriarch, and John’s father. Banished from Court, and forced to leave her son there, Ida marries Roger and founds a strong patriarchal dynasty. However, tension is never far from boiling point, with the two half brothers tolerating each other at

Into this heady mix comes Mahelt, a true firebrand, and an uncharacteristically strong female for this period in history. Engaged, and then married to Hugh, their life together forms one of the main strands of the novel, and makes for intriguing and moving reading. They are a wonderful couple, complementing each other's strengths and weaknesses - not only do we laugh with them, but shed a few tears too, at the horrendous events they have to live through. Born before their time, not only is Mahelt a strong and influential female in a traditionally male dominated environment, but Hugh too is a model of an admirable character: skilled knight, conscientious son, loving husband, and doting father! Ok, I admit it, I was more than a little in love with him…

The families are living through some truly frightening, threatening and cruel times, and their strengths, fears and weaknesses are well illustrated against this wider picture, where we see the country literally disintegrating in the King's wake. The wider political picture is also well documented, and some of the scenes are harrowing in the extreme - the slaughter of the children at Nottingham, comes to mind. The author is clearly comfortable dealing with the either the nitty gritty of individual lives, or the broader canvas of a country at war, and armies on the march. As one who knows little of the period being chronicled, I was grateful to learn more - and the added appendix explaining a little more of the period was a useful addition.

As always, Chadwick simply dazzles the reader with her superb characterisation, her ability to bring the period alive, so we feel as if we are walking alongside the characters, seeing what they see, hearing the tumult surrounding them - sharing in their agonies, and celebrating their joys. She has a keen insight too into the minds of her younger characters, and some of the best scenes revolve around the children, in all branches of the families. I cannot commend the work of Chadwick's highly enough - if you enjoy historical fiction, she will surely become a firm favourite, if she isn't already ranking highly in your 'favourite authors' list!

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then try The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett.

Buy To Defy A King by Elizabeth Chadwick at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy To Defy A King by Elizabeth Chadwick at Amazon.co.uk.


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