The Middle Ages used to be a period in which I was very interested--my History "A" Level covered 1066 to Magna Carta, and we also did a special study of King John. Over the years I have somewhat lost touch with the subject, and although I buy books on it occasionally, I'm much more interested n the Romans these days.
My only real connection with Medieval Historical Fiction is my collection of Cadfaels, painstakingly completed through visits to charity shops and secondhand bookshops. I can see it from where I'm typing. So many Cadfaels have I in fact read that they weren't eligible for the challenge. So we went hunting through various online places in order to find something that appealed to, and was available to, us both.
This took some time.
After we'd settled on The Greatest Knight
, and both obtained copies, it took time for our reading schedules to align so we could begin reading more-or-less at the same time. monissaw
was reading Lindsay Davis and I was deep into Body of Glass
. But finally the moment arrived.
The book opens with a series of dreams that convey backstory. This was not what I considered a hopeful start. Dreams and backstory. All that was missing was a mirror, but, as monissaw
pointed out, full-length mirrors weren't available way back then. Inconsiderate, really.
Sadly, the book never got better. monissaw
has given her own reasons why she didn't find it engaging, but, for me, the problem was the lack of conflict. Obviously with a historical subject you're somewhat constrained by the history, but there isn't any need to write a hagiography unless that's your intention. It felt as if Chadwick's admiration for her subject had overridden the need to write an exciting story.
Protagonist William Marshall is poor and a little concerned that his mentor and fief lord will cast him off as he simply has too many knights hanging off his sleeves. Nor can anything be expected from William's family. So, what does he do? Distinguishes himself in battle, of course. But oops! he's forgotten to take prisoners for ransom. Well, no matter, he can ride off and make himself a fortune in tournaments instead.
He's left with a dodgy horse but no matter! he can fix the horse's problem instantly.
There's no immediacy of threat in any of this, and no obstacle, apparently, that William can't bound over with feet to spare. So there's nothing in it for this reader. I want to see a character driven up a tree and then watch rocks being thrown at them. Provided I care about the character, of course.
The setting is fine, although sometimes period-accurate words like "destrier" seem uncomfortable on the page. There's just nothing driving the story, and so no reason for the reading to continue.
I got partway into chapter four before monissaw
and I agreed we could stop.