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Feb 27, 2011

To Defy A King by Elizabeth Chadwick

To Defy A King by Elizabeth Chadwick
Paperback, 560 pages
Medieval Historical Fiction
Published March 1st 2011 by Sourcebooks Landmark/May by Sphere
Review copy provided by Sourcebooks
The Burton Review Rating: 4.5 stars

Acquiring a novel by the now famous Elizabeth Chadwick is one of those win-win situations. You know you can't go wrong with Elizabeth Chadwick's writing, as she has gained fans around the world. I doubt anyone bothers reading this review because of the fact that almost everyone has the same opinions of her..Chadwick is an icon for the historical fiction community for her ability to create a believable and passionate story based around major events of the era. For me, she ranks up there with Sharon Kay Penman for medieval history.  Reading a new Chadwick novel is much like your favorite treat, you know you will be satisfied with the result. Last year I had loved her novels that focused on William Marshal, and here she comes again bringing us more William Marshal, perhaps the greatest knight to have ever lived... yet this time the story focuses on his daughter, Mahelt, also known as Maud or Matilda. I was eager to hate King John in Chadwick's The Scarlet Lion, and the feeling is back again with Mahelt's dealings with him as she watches her Marshal family become threatened by his various moods. He was murderous, treacherous, unwilling to cooperate with his barons; one shudders to think what his mama (Eleanor of Aquitaine) would have thought about his hateful and misguided actions.

Mahelt is not a prominent woman of historical importance, as opposed to the Eleanor of Aquitaine to whom her father had served, yet Chadwick weaves us a fascinating story of her as she reconstructs the historical events that occurred to her Marshal family and her marriage family. An interesting tidbit is that the sons of William Marshal had no children, yet it is through Mahelt's children that the Stuart Kings of Scotland claimed as part of their heritage. Through about three sentences mentioning Mahelt within medieval history which Chadwick found, she recreates with intricate details the life of Mahelt with a clarity that makes her readers feel like they are transported to that era. Chadwick portrays Mahelt as impetuous, stubborn, strong-willed, and totally likable.. Her marriage to Hugh Bigod comes at a time when the Marshals need a friend in high places, and the Bigods were a perfect fit, as were the new couple. Hugh seemed to enjoy Mahelt's willful character, and loved to be the one to tame her. I enjoyed the love story, the various characters such as her brothers, the historical details of King John vs. the world, and how the Marshals and the Bigods worked together, albeit tenuously.

Those readers who read Chadwick's The Time of Singing (UK) aka For The Kings Favor (USA), the story of Roger Bigod, will be reintroduced to Roger and Ida after their own love affair has settled. Ida now takes on Mahelt as her own daughter and helps her to adjust to the Bigod ways and tries to teach her to not step on gruff Roger's toes. As she proves her worth to the Bigods, her husband becomes smitten with her. Managing to please her father-in-law is another feat, but Mahelt does her best to heed to his will. King John creates havoc in the Marshals' world, and threatens the peace between the two families of Bigods and Marshals. King John loved to take hostages, such as Mahelt's brothers and others, some did not come out alive.

If there are any quibbles with the story of Mahelt, I can say that the author spoke of Mahelt's repulsion to sewing an awful lot, and her husband Hugh had many 'eloquent' looks, and the ending was a bit anti-climatic. But altogether the novel is one of family drama, loyalty, strife and historical details with a strong cast of characters that will please any history lover. I am waiting for some fabulous screenwriter/director combo to pick up on Chadwick's William Marshal novels and produce an epic movie for us that encompasses the stories of the Marshals and the Bigods before and during King John's rule. That would be a well-deserved feather in Chadwick's cap; she deserves all the accolades and praise as a queen of historical fiction. The spirit of the Marshals shine on her and through her worthy pen.