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Jan 16, 2013

Shadows and Strongholds by Elizabeth Chadwick

Cover from my UK Time Warner edition

Shadows and Strongholds by Elizabeth Chadwick
My personal copy is published by Time Warner UK, 2005
Also published November 29th 2005 by St. Martin's Press (first published July 2004)
Paperback 568 pages
Not sent by publisher, author etc; Personal collection!
Burton Book Review Rating: FIVE Stars!
Previous Elizabeth Chadwick Reviews at Burton Book Review

A medieval tale of pride and strife, of coming-of-age in a world where chivalry is a luxury seldom afforded, especially by men of power.

England, 1148---ten-year-old Brunin FitzWarin is an awkward misfit in his own family. A quiet child, he is tormented by his brothers and loathed by his powerful and autocratic grandmother. In an attempt to encourage Brunin's development, his father sends him to be fostered in the household of Joscelin de Dinan, Lord of Ludlow. Here Brunin will learn knightly arts, but before he can succeed, he must overcome the deep-seated doubts that hold him back.

Hawise, the youngest daughter of Lord Joscelin, soon forms a strong friendship with Brunin. Family loyalties mean that her father, with the young Brunin as his squire, must aid Prince Henry of Anjou in his battle with King Stephen for the English crown. Meanwhile, Ludlow itself comes under threat from Joscelin's rival, Gilbert de Lacy. As the war for the crown rages, and de Lacy becomes more assertive in his claims for Ludlow, Brunin and Hawise are drawn into each other's arms.

Now Brunin must defeat the shadows of his childhood and put to use all that he has learned. As the pressure on Ludlow intensifies and a new Welsh threat emerges against his own family's lands, Brunin must confront the future head on, or fail on all counts....

What a book to start the New Year with, and this is the first book I've read towards the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge! Medieval treachery, love, and war coming from the pen of Chadwick is always a treat for me. I adore Elizabeth Chadwick's writing as she blends romance and history with much detail of the medieval period. This particular story focuses on a young couple who first met when the young boy became a ward of the girl's father. Brunin FitzWarin was a friend to Hawise, and kindred spirits. They enjoyed each other's company growing up, but once they were finally betrothed their world changed. Hawise's family home of Ludlow Castle comes under threat from de Lacy cousins who would like to battle for its possession, and Brunin finds himself face to face with that threat at the same time his own ancestral home becomes threatened.

There are many side characters as typical of a Chadwick novel which helps to give an epic style story, and as Chadwick readers already know, the stories are always full of historical details that are inter-weaved throughout a dramatic story. The FitzWarin family may be a step above the de Dinan's as far as status and lineage goes, but marrying Hawise de Dinan to Brunin will bring the FitzWarins the prize of Ludlow Castle. But that's only if the de Lacy's will let Ludlow go, and it doesn't seem like Gilbert de Lacy and his loyal squires are willing to do that. There are disputes from several families as to the rightful owners of the castles of the story which brings battles and grudges to the families involved. Add the fact that England is in the middle of yet another political war between King Stephen's factions and Matilda's son Henry, we've got ourselves a fantastic telling of a complex period of England's history.

Shadows and Strongholds provides a riveting, captivating wondrous tale of medieval chivalry and rivalry among powerful families such as the de Lacys and Mortimers. One of the most interesting things romance lovers will adore is the fact that one of female leads from this novel, Marion de la Bruyere, is to this day purported to be a ghost amongst the ruins of Ludlow Castle. Her story is vividly imagined in the novel and such a sad one. And in the Author's Note I was so happy to learn that Chadwick's earlier 2000 publication of Lords of the White Castle is actually the latter story of the FitzWarin story, so guess what I'm reading next?!

I have read and enjoyed five other novels from Elizabeth Chadwick, and this one does not disappoint in the least. Chadwick is a master of the medieval period and I love how she is not afraid to add a thicker layer of  romance than most. She and Sharon Kay Penman are each my favorite medieval period historical fiction authors, and other fans of Elizabeth Chadwick will be pleased to know that she is reissuing Shadows and Strongholds with Sourcebooks Landmark in March 2013. Be prepared to see it on many favorite lists at the end of 2013, including mine.