Raised to a rigorous Norman standard, Judith, niece to the new Norman king of England, William the Conquerer, is alarmed at her unexpected attraction to an English lord, Waltheof of Huntingdon. The attraction is more than mutual, and Waltheof immediately petitions for her hand in marriage. Witnessing their peculiar attraction is young Simon de Senlis, son of the king’s chamberlain, who is injured by Judith’s boldness in choosing a horse she can’t handle. While Judith and Waltheof are undeniably attracted to one another, setting aside their differences for the sake of their marriage is perhaps more than this couple can bear.
I love Elizabeth Chadwick’s books. Her medieval settings are rich with color and life, while her characters could stroll off the page remarkably easily. Even with this detail, however, which I know she meticulously researches, all of her novels are driven by their characters and their complex relationships with one another. I thought this book was a simple romance, but it turns out to be a multi-generational story of forgiveness for all of the characters. They are for the most part historical characters and Chadwick fleshes out the bare bones of their recorded lives to give us a living, breathing story that is a pleasure to read.
It’s hard to pick out what I appreciate the most here. Despite its five hundred pages, the story simply flew by, and a great deal happens over the course of the narrative. The book is never boring or slow despite the length and I was in fact eager to see what happened next, because things did not go at all as I’d predicted. I wondered how she was going to fill 500 pages with one romance, but of course there is more than that; two romances and even a crusade. Chadwick slips in little historical details over the course of the book, like the way the Normans cut their hair as opposed to the English, or the metal bands that Waltheof wears around his wrists from his Viking ancestors.
The characters are real and as frustrating sometimes as they are lovable. I wanted to shake both Judith and Waltheof as they struggled so much over their differences, but they truly came from different cultures. Simple attraction couldn’t overcome the vast difference in what they wanted from their lives and what they thought was appropriate, and this could be as true of any twenty-first century couple as it is of this eleventh century one. Their descendants are very charismatic and in fact more appealing than Judith and Waltheof, which brought the story to a very enjoyable conclusion.
I’ve really enjoyed all of Elizabeth Chadwick’s books so far, and The Winter Mantle is no exception. I highly recommend any of her books for engrossing historical fiction.
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