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The Champion by Elizabeth Chadwick

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Location: On the Banks of the Hudson

The Champion by Elizabeth Chadwick

Postby Telynor » Mon September 1st, 2008, 10:13 pm

Late last year, I rediscovered the works of Elizabeth Chadwick, and found myself very pleasantly surprised. I had suspected that these would turn out to be pretty standard historical romances, with plenty of purple prose, some sex, and a not too memorable plot.

Boy, was I in for a shock!

<i>The Champion</i> takes a pretty romantic ideal and gives it new life in the story of two lovers that go through a great deal before fate gives them a chance to be together. What makes this one the surprise are the settings, the characters, and the level of research in creating a medieval world that is believable and honest.

Alexander de Montroi arrives at a tournament in Normandy in 1193. He's fled the sexual advances of a corrupt prior at the monastery where his family has pledged him. With his own home closed to him, he's come to his brother's encampment for help. And Alexander is determined to become a knight, just as Hervi is. If he can survive the brutal conditions and fighting, he can carve out a name for himself, and with luck, find a spot in a powerful lord's household. Hervi is doubtful about his brother having any success, but a daredevil stunt in the middle of a melee shows that not only can Alex fight, but also he has a rare talent for it.

In the rough life of the tournament, there are also families. One of them is that of Arnaud de Cerizay, working hard to keep his wife, Lady Clemence and his daughter, Monday, fed and well. Monday is a bright, pretty young woman, using her talents for sewing and knowing nothing of her real heritage. Alex and Monday get to know each other well, but Monday is well-protected enough to know that she and Alex can't have any sort of romance, and Alex is just inexperienced enough to moon after Monday.

But it isn't all glory. Alex makes powerful enemies, especially Eudo le Boucher. Eudo is a brutal man, intent on crushing the life out of Alexander, and lusting after Monday. And for Monday, after a tragedy strikes down her mother, and facing an unwanted pregnancy, is forced to fend for herself and finds herself the mistress of a powerful lord, none other than Lord John, the Count de Mortain, and Richard the Lionheart's brother.

Through these eyes we get to see the not-so-glamourous life that those on the tournament field went through. There's constant travel, the risk of losing one's life, or being defeated in battle and losing the horse and armour that is so desperately needed. It's a real switch from the usual setting of most historical novels where the characters are lords and ladies in fine castles or royalty. Instead, this is life that is being lived on the edge, where a sudden change of fate can mean fortune or disaster.

What really struck me about this is the wealth of detail that the author, Elizabeth Chadwick, is able to weave into her story. What's even better is that she makes it all very believable. I could smell campfires, know the chill of an early morning, the uncertainty, and the yearning for security that infuses this novel with real life. Chadwick has drawn on her own experiences in the world of medieval reenactment, and has put it all to good use. And naturally, one of the first rules of writing is to <I>write what you know.</I>

Lest the reader think that this is all just slogging about in the mud and mire, there are some really great touches of history as well. Readers of her novels <I>The Greatest Knight</I> and <I>The Scarlet Lion</I> will be pleased to see the appearance of William Marshal and his wife Isabelle de Clare. Too, she handles the character of John, he of the wicked reputation in all those Robin Hood legends, and makes him not just interesting but also motivated.

Some might be upset at the untraditional events that Monday goes through by becoming a mistress to a man that she knows she can't marry. For many women of the time, this wasn't degrading, but rather an alternative to starving to death or becoming a prostitute. In Monday's case, I found it heart wrenching, and her story of survival and endurance is a very unusual one indeed.

And as for John -- Well, I've had a fondness for him ever since Sharon Kay Penman's <I>Here Be Dragons</I> where most of the fiction was peeled away and a much more human character emerges. You might despise a lot of his actions in the story, but it is what he was, a brilliant man who was unfortunately bent in his emotional and moral choices.

Another touch that I really enjoyed was the use of religion in this as well. Chadwick has her characters pray, go to confession and be just as people probably were in the medieval period. Many historical writers skip over this topic, unless they have their heroes or heroines are part of some 'forgotten pagan religion' buried underground. Instead, it just was what it was, so much a part of daily life and unquestioned in terms of practice, that it added a very good angle to the story. The ultimate fate of both Alex and Monday (what a neat name for a heroine!) is also very logical and believable as well, and one to cheer for. At the end of the novel, Chadwick tucks in a historical note about the story and some of the elements in it.

In conclusion, Elizabeth Chadwick has become one of my favourite authors in historical fiction. Her writing style is exciting, sounds and feels right for the time, and is happily, realistic. Her use of history and the actual people who shaped that world is a delight to read, and those who want to move on from the mass-produced tales of knights and ladies would do well to seek out her work. Sadly, her publishers here in the States have allowed her novels to become hard to find and out of print. Happily, her publishers in the United Kingdom are keeping her books in stock, and at a very reasonable price -- go to http://www.bookdepository.co.uk to get your hands on her titles.

Four stars. Recommended.

The Champion
Elizabeth Chadwick
1997, 2006; Sphere Books, Little, Brown and Company
ISBN 978-0-7515-3869-4

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Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Tue September 2nd, 2008, 12:23 am

I really enjoyed this one, especially the over the top evilness of King John.

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Location: Southern California

Postby LCW » Tue September 2nd, 2008, 12:30 am

This is going to be the next Chadwick that I read. I just love her more romantic novels. They're great!!
Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them. --Arnold Lobel

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Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Tue September 2nd, 2008, 2:09 am

I agree, the older romance oriented books are great fun. Next up is Time of Singing, IF ONLY OCTOBER WOULD GET HERE. Do I sound impatient?

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Postby diamondlil » Tue September 2nd, 2008, 3:58 am

Not at all! ;)
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Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Mon December 29th, 2008, 12:58 am

Another EC reread for me this week. For some reason this housebound/snowbound reader has been going back to old favorites like I would comfort food (nothing wrong with that :o :) :p ).

Alexander de Montroi, unwanted by his older half-brother, is placed in a monastery where he was abused by a monk. Alexander escapes the monastery and seeks his half brother Hervi who is a tourney knight in partnership with Arnaud de Cerizay and his wife Clemence and their daughter Monday. As Alexander is trained by his brother to be a tourney knight, he also earns the lifetime enmity of fellow tourney knight and all-around bad guy Eudo le Boucher. Eventually, Monday's mother dies in childbirth and her father is driven mad with grief and is killed by le Boucher, leaving Monday in the care of Hervi and Alexander. One night Monday and Alexander get a bit too tipsy and end up in bed together, leading Monday to leave the protection of the de Montroi brothers and seek employment with Lady Elise as a sempstress -- and finds herself pregnant. Hervi is injured and Alexander leaves him in care of monks (good ones) as he searches for Monday to no avail. The brothers fear she is lost to them forever.

John, Count of Mortaine, visits the castle where Monday resides and is smitten and makes her his mistress as Alexander, with no hope of finding Monday, takes service with William Marshal as a household knight. After several years, their paths cross and the rest of the story then revolves around extricating Monday from John's clutches along with those of Monday's well born grandfather - who now needs an heir and wishes to have Monday married to someone more suitable than Alexander - but Alexander must be put out of the way first.

This is one of Chadwick's earlier novels and while her attention to historical detail is outstanding as always, this book does have more of a romance feel to it, although I thoroughly enjoyed Alexander and Monday's love story. King John is delightfully evil as always as are the other baddies leading up to an exciting ending waiting to see if true love will win out in the end. While not her best novel, Chadwick's second best is head and heels above much of the rest in the genre, and as always the way she brings the medieval period to life with the smells, clothes, food and battles is just awesome. Four stars.

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Location: Northern Virginia

Postby Tanzanite » Mon February 9th, 2009, 5:19 pm

I finished this a couple of days ago. Although I thought the romantic storyline was a little predictable, I enjoyed it and the wonderful historical details more than made up for it!

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Favorite HF book: Welsh Princes trilogy
Preferred HF: The Middle Ages (England), New Kingdom Egypt, Medieval France
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Postby Nefret » Mon November 4th, 2013, 12:20 am

I'm not sure if I've read this already. If so, it was before I was really a HF fan of the time period. Now I have been convinced to borrow it from the library.
Into battle we ride with Gods by our side
We are strong and not afraid to die
We have an urge to kill and our lust for blood has to be fulfilled
WE´LL FIGHT TILL THE END! And send our enemies straight to Hell!
- "Into Battle"

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