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The Winter Mantle by Elizabeth Chadwick

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The Winter Mantle by Elizabeth Chadwick

Post by Telynor » Mon September 1st, 2008, 10:08 pm

This year, I have been very carefully parceling out my reading of British author Elizabeth Chadwick's novels while I wait for her newest releases this fall. Rediscovering her work, and finding out what a terrific, knowledgeable author she is, makes each story a delight to read and experience.

The Winter Mantle is set in the years just after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. The new King of England, William the Bastard, has his hands quite full trying to quell any incipient rebellions, and run both England and his own lands in Normandy. He's taken what nobles have survived the battle of Hastings, and brought them as hostages to his court in Normandy, hoping that it will help to slow down if not stop any uprising.

But the King also has some potential rebellion in his own family as well. His niece, Judith, the daughter of his sister Adelaide, is a very angry young woman. Resented by her mother for not being a son, Judith has grown up without affection and has created a hard shell of pride to protect herself from being hurt. When she meets the handsome and friendly Waltheof, she's dazzled both by his good looks and strength.

Waltheof, with his blond, near-Viking looks, and wearing a brilliant blue mantle lined with the fur of a polar bear, is an exotic creature in the Norman court. He's bearded and keeps his hair long, and in a surprising turn, seems not to care very much that his country has been overrun, and he's lost his titles and lands. His fellow hostages see him as a traitor to his own people, the Normans see him as a barbarian, and his only friends seem to be Judith and a young boy, Simon de Senlis, that he saved during an accident.

It's a very delicate balancing act for Waltheof , caught as he is between the Saxons and the Normans, and his desire for Judith is the motivation that keeps him loyal -- for now. When they do marry, at first it seems that there will be peace in their own little corner of England. But old troubles come soon to haunt them both, with tragic consequences to follow for both of them and their daughters, Matilda and Jude.

Matilda, heiress to Huntingdon, knows that she will marry to seal an alliance, but it's not enough for her -- she wants someone to love her. All that she has of her father is her memories of him, and his loss has carved a deep hole in her spirit. When she meets Simon de Senlis, wearing her father's cloak, she feels the same thunderbolt that brought her parents together. But is Simon just after the Huntingdon lands, or does he truly care for Matilda?

I confess, I am a devoted fan of Elizabeth Chadwick's work, and so I tend to look at her work with a bit of a rosy tinge. But I also try to look at her work with a critical eye as well. So far I haven't found anything to complain about. She writes stories that blend historical fact, psychological insight, hands on research as to how people lived then, and a firm belief that love and happiness can survive in times of great change.

Waltheof and Judith's stories here are truly heartbreaking. But what kept me reading was that these were two very human people struggling to achieve their dreams -- and making mistakes along the way. Waltheof may look like the quintessential medieval hero, but he makes some severe faults in judgment that not only affect him but also his family. Ms. Chadwick, bless her, doesn't go the easy way out and have some sort of miracle happen to save them all in a 'happy-ever-after,' but lets the story play out. Matilda and Simon make mistakes too, and again, the author is wise enough to have them work it out, instead of falling back on stereotypes. This was what really sold this novel to me, that these people were flawed, very human, and still had the courage to keep going with their lives and make the best of it that they could.

It's this sort of writing the lifts Elizabeth Chadwick's work out of the run-of-the-mill historical that tend to litter the shelves, and put them firmly into the class of book that makes for good historical fiction. Each novel that I've read from her has been full of exciting characters, an excellent story line, several surprises and a yearning to read more of her work.

This one gets a solid four star rating from me. It's a bit different for a historical novel, but if the reader can handle a setback and a surprise or two, this would make a satisfying read. Happily recommended.

Several characters will make an appearance in a sequel to this one, The Falcons of Montabard.

The Winter Mantle
Elizabeth Chadwick
2002, 2007; Little Brown and Company
ISBN 978-0-7515-3840-3

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Post by Misfit » Mon December 29th, 2008, 12:42 am

I just reread this one -- actually better the second time around as I know more about the Conquest, William and Waltheoff. It was interesting to compare EC's take on Judith as opposed to Anand's in the Norman trilogy. The same, yet very very different. Now I have to get Falcons back from my brother so I can read Simon's story again :p

The Winter Mantle begins in 1067 after The Conquest as Waltheof of Huntingdon and several other English nobles are kept under William's close eye in Normandy. Waltheof desires William's haughty niece Judith and is torn between making his peace with William and pressing suit for her hand or participating in further rebellion against the Norman conquerors. After one rebellion in the north fails, William forgives Waltheof and marries him to Judith, although she is torn between pride in her Norman ancestry and desire for her husband, and this eventually leads to discord in the marriage. Waltheof allows himself to be convinced to participate in one last attempt at overthrowing William, and this time with drastic results.

The story then takes up with the second generation, Waltheof's beloved daughter Matilda and Norman courtier Simon de Senlis who at the behest of King William Rufus comes to take charge of the lands Judith inherited from Waltheof. Furious, the ever haughty Judith refuses to cooperate and wed Simon and he turns his eye to Matilda as a younger and more appealing choice. The story then continues as Matilda and Simon raise their children, and Judith finally comes to terms with her own guilt in Waltheof's fate and his death as a traitor, as well as the consequences to Simon and Judith's marriage from Simon's actions on his return from the Crusades.

Based on true people, this was a lively entertaining tale and I very much enjoyed how the author was able to take such a snotty piece of goods like Judith and humanize her in the end - it really was a love/hate relationship between she and Waltheof and in many ways those two warring emotions are very much the same. As with all of her books, Chadwick has an amazing knack of bringing the medieval period to life, be it the sights, sounds, smells, food, clothing and more. Highly recommended and a side note that the tiny baby at the very end of the book has his own story in The Falcons of Montabard.

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Post by LCW » Mon December 29th, 2008, 4:56 am

This was the first Chadwick novel I ever read. I liked it enough to go out and buy every one of her books I could get my hands on but I have to say that it along with Falcons are my least favorite of hers. They're both good books but the others are much better, IMO. It'll be interesting to see when I reread them if I still have the same opinion!
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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Post by Carla » Mon December 29th, 2008, 6:28 pm

This was the first Elizabeth Chadwick I ever read, and now I'm a confirmed fan! Like Telynor, what I liked most was that Judith and Waltheof were so real and so flawed I felt like shaking them :-)
PATHS OF EXILE - love, war, honour and betrayal in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria
Editor's Choice, Historical Novels Review, August 2009
Now available as e-book on Amazon Kindleand in Kindle, Epub (Nook, Sony Reader), Palm and other formats on Smashwords
Website: http://www.carlanayland.org
Blog: http://carlanayland.blogspot.com

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