In the dark hour before dawn, all the shutters in the great hall were closed against the evil vapours of the night. Under the heavy iron curfew, the fire was a quenched dragon’s eye.
William Marshall was a real person; born in relative obscurity he rose through the ranks to become “the greatest knight that ever lived” as well as Earl of Pembroke. He served under four kings of England, although this book only covers his exploits under two, Henry II and Richard I. He married Isabel de Clare, who was the daughter of Strongbow. And through her gained the rights to Leinster.
This could so easily have been I book I loved. Knights! Jousting! A decent story. Entertaining characters. It could have been brilliant. Unfortunately it wasn’t. It was entertaining and a solid bit of entertainment, but it wasn’t great enough to be loved. Everything about it is good. But nothing is great, which is a huge pity, but there you go.
The one main problem I had with the book was the dates in the chapter headings. On occasion Chadwick skips a few years in William’s story, understandable as you can’t write about everything, that’d just be boring and ridiculous, but because I don’t pay attention to chapter headings I found that I was constantly flipping back just to be sure what year we were supposed to be in. This happens a lot more at the start, and later on you can tell from the story that a few months or a year have passed so you don’t really need to know the exact date. But in the beginning it irritated me.
As I said there is a lot to like in this book, although as the facts are based in a biography commissioned by William’s son, there really isn’t a whole lot of negativity about William. I know he is the hero, but it would have been nice to see him as more than the “noble and true” knight. A little bit more shading would have made him more real to me.
Before I finish I should say that I really did enjoy this book. I know this review seems a little negative, but that’s because I know that with a little more something I could’ve really loved it. As it is I found it highly entertaining, very readable, full of details, and well worth reading if you like historical fiction.