Brunin FitzWarin, ten years old, feels like an embarrassment to his family. His grandmother is domineering, his father is never satisfied, and his mother cries often. At a fair, he runs into two older boys, enemies of his father, who beat him mercilessly. As a result, Brunin is sent to be squired at the castle of his father’s best friend, Joscelin de Dinan of Ludlow. There he meets Joscelin’s daughter Hawise, who soon befriends him and helps him live a little outside the shadow of his family. As Brunin grows up, he must find confidence in himself, love with Hawise, and help Henry II to take the English throne.
Elizabeth Chadwick is a fantastic author and I don’t know why I don’t read more of her books. This is another one of my oldest TBR reads and it’s a shame that I let it sit so long. I was immediately drawn into the 12th century to live with these characters in their world. Those characters are truly wonderful. I loved Hawise and both her tomboyish ways as a child and her path towards maturity as a responsible, loving woman. Brunin was a more challenging character; in many ways he has to fight his way to favor both in the book and for the reader. Towards the middle, it becomes easier to feel for him. The timescale of the book over a long period of years suited the characters’ development particularly well, too; it takes us through enough of their lives that we can really get to know them and become interested in the outcome of their stories.
Chadwick has also evoked the period in history brilliantly. The battles are exciting, the behavior of the characters is right in line, and the political drama is played out on a personal scale. Her language is pitch perfect. She uses modern English without any colloqualisms (not any that I spotted) but with medieval words for clothes and objects which we would no longer recognize. All of it is very well done and makes it easy to sink into the world while not forgetting that this is meant to be set 900 or so years ago.
There is quite obviously romance in this book, but it’s one facet among many and feels very natural. The characters deal with family issues, loyalty, illness, unfair and arbitrary laws, and even aging. The outcome of the novel is never assured; the plot moves fairly quickly and the reader is not sure whether there will be a happy ending or not. There is suspense going on at times as well; I know I found myself racing through the pages to make sure that certain characters lived.
There is something here for everyone. Despite its length, it was also a quick read; it’s very easy to get swept away in this historical saga. I’d highly recommend it and I’m really looking forward to my next read by Elizabeth Chadwick.