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Daughters of the Grail by Elizabeth Chadwick

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Location: Seattle, WA

Daughters of the Grail by Elizabeth Chadwick

Postby Misfit » Wed September 3rd, 2008, 6:12 pm

This is really one of the best books I have ever read. It's not Gone With the Wind or the Far Pavilions, but it's pretty darn close. So much of the historical fiction I read is centered in England, Scotland and Wales, and I enjoyed reading about this period in history in southern France and about a religion I knew nothing about (having not yet read The DaVinci Code).

This was an exciting tale of Cathars, Knights Templar, evil priests, Bridget and her daughter Magda - descended from Mary Magdelene, all battling the Roman Catholic Church that is bent on destroying them, and finishes with a heart-stopping page turning, can't put it down until it's done finish. It always astounds me the evil that men will do in the name of "god", and that it continues to this day.

I had found this book used in the US last year, and the first time I read it I knew nothing about Simon DeMontfort (the second) and what he tried to accomplish for England before his tragic end. Although I know the part he plays in this novel, with his illegitimate half brother Dominic, is just a story, it was nice to see some glimpses of him in a minor role as a young boy and then a young man. To learn more about DeMontfort, please read Sharon Kay Penman's Falls the Shadow.

As always with Chadwick's books, the way she brings the medieval period to life in such a graceful and effortless way, be it the sights, sounds, smells, food, clothes and battles is just awesome. Five stars.

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Location: On the Banks of the Hudson

Postby Telynor » Wed September 10th, 2008, 11:11 pm

It was a new month, and that means I got to pick out another title of Elizabeth Chadwick's to read. (I am trying very hard to pace out my enjoyment of her novels so that I neither get burnout, nor run out of something new of hers to read.) This month's selection was her novel about the Albigensian Crusades of the early thirteenth century, <I>Daughters of the Grail</I>.

And I'll freely admit it, I tend to be rather skeptical of stories that blend the whole 'holy grail' bit in with history. I've read so much on the topic over the years that the subject holds absolutely no interest for me whatsoever. Still, the novel <I>was</I> by Elizabeth Chadwick, and happy experience have taught me that she's a damn fine writer, and knows her craft very well.

When the novel opens, young Bridget is with her dying mother Magda in a cave high up in the Pyrennes mountains of France. Southern France at this time is being ravaged by religious controversy between the Catholic Church and the breakaway Cathars. The Cathars are pacifists, with beliefs that diverge wildly from the norm -- they believe in equality, that women could preach, that the world was in reality sinful and ruled by the Rex Mundi, a spirit of evil. But the secret that Bridgt and her mother have, that would rock all of Christianity to its very origins -- if they remain alive to carry it into the future. Madga makes Bridget promise to remain alive and bear a child, and to seek help from the Cathars who will aid her.

Wandering with two Cathar companions, Bridget meets Raoul de Montvallant, a young knight, on his wedding day to the beautiful Claire. They notice one another, and while Bridget is aware of both his strength and beauty, she does not act on her own desire. And Raoul is very much in love with his young wife. Beyond the happy events, a larger storm is about to descend, where the Catholic church is about to declare war on fellow Christians, and unleash a time of brutal barbarism.

The third player in this drama is a baron in northern France. He is a brutal man, rigid in his beliefs and behaviour, and skilled in warfare. Simon de Montfort is an ambitious man, wanting more power and lands under his control and determined to win fame for himself and his liniage. When the word comes that the Church is to hunt out Catharism and crush it out, he gladly goes to war.

Raoul and Claire, despite their love for each other, find themselves separated by fate and coping with devastating losses. Bridget is able to continue on. And the Cathars are facing death and terrible retribution for their beliefs. In the next generation, we see their children carry on their story, culminating in the tragedies of Montsegur.

In all honesty, I tend to avoid novels that try to blend mysticism and history, finding them much too overwrought for me to suspend my rather skeptical nature. But as I read, I found this story actually enjoyable. Bridget is a woman of great sensitivity, using her gifts for healing with compassion, even when it may mean future danger for herself and others. And Chadwick's presentation of the Cathars has them make sense, and shows quite a bit of their customs and lifestyle, both of which would have been outright heresy to most of the medieval world. But most compelling was the story about Simon de Montfort -- to modern minds he is a vicious, barbaric man, and I found him to be one of the more loathsome villans in history.

As always with Chadwick, her writing style is vivid and flows well, carrying the reader quickly along as the lives of these four people intertwine, along with a healthy dose of the mystical world. While I'm not a big fan of the entire controversy about Mary Magdalene, this is one of the better versions of the story.

Along with the novel, Chadwick discusses some of her ideas in an afterword, and reveals some of the facts behind the story as well as giving a list of further books to read on the subject of the Cathars and religious dissent in thirteenth century France. I would also suggest Zoe Oldenbourg's novels about the same time period and topic, especially <I>Destiny of Fire.</I>

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.

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Location: Always Cloudy, Central New York

Postby Divia » Wed September 10th, 2008, 11:46 pm

I have to say I longed for this book, bought it from Amazon UK and just couldnt get into it. :( I really wanted to like it but alas it felt like a romance novel.
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Postby JaneConsumer » Thu September 11th, 2008, 12:49 am

I enjoyed the story. It piqued my interest in the Cathars and it gave me insight into the real Simon de Montfort.

Correct me if I'm wrong, EC, but the de Montfort in Daughters was the father of the de Montfort in SKP's Falls the Shadows. I think he was a much less likable man in real life.

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Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Thu September 11th, 2008, 1:39 am

Waiting for EC, but I recall this was Simon the Elder, although the younger Simon from Falls the Shadow was a minor character. I enjoyed it as well and it's the only book I've read so far on this period. Oh wait, I did read the first in Hannah Close's trilogy High are the Mountains. DOTG is much better and more readable. But then, I'm a Chadwick fan in the first degree :p

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Location: Nottingham UK

Postby EC2 » Fri September 12th, 2008, 6:10 pm

"JaneConsumer" wrote:I enjoyed the story. It piqued my interest in the Cathars and it gave me insight into the real Simon de Montfort.

Correct me if I'm wrong, EC, but the de Montfort in Daughters was the father of the de Montfort in SKP's Falls the Shadows. I think he was a much less likable man in real life.

Yes, de Montfort Senior in Daughters is the father of the Simon de Montfort from SKP's novel. I have decided many years down the line and in hindsight that I would like to hang out with neither of these men in the afterlife!
Re Daughters of the Grail. This was a different one for me and a one off. I was commissioned to write it by a TV producer who had read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and wanted to make a 3 part series for TV all set in the 13thC and covering the Cathar story with bits of mysticism. But first he needed a book. I was picked up to do this for him after he and my agent got talking. He was looking for a historical fiction author who could do the biz for him. My agent said 'I have one.' At the time I was still a relatively new author. Daughters of the Grail was to be my fourth novel. I had a one page treatment from the film producer with the basic premise but I had to work all the flesh round the bones and grow the the thing from embryo to adult.
So: A) it's a sidestep from the kind of stuff I usually write, (like First Knight was a momentary sidestep) but I'm glad I did because it gave me scope to try something slightly different and something bigger than I'd done with my first 3 books. If you like it broadened out my CV
B) When I first wrote it, it was a tough call because I probably didn't have sufficient experience but hey, you're not going to turn down something like this when it comes calling! I've since re-edited it - for the better I think, but I'd still like to have had a go at it later down the career line.

The film never got made - which is standard procedure. For every 100 projects that are mooted, perhaps one gets made.

Onwards and upwards!
Last edited by EC2 on Fri September 12th, 2008, 6:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: wasn't making sense!
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal


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