Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Shadows and Strongholds by Elizabeth Chadwick

I have already read Lords of The White Castle of which this one is a prequel and I was eager to start this one.

A Mediaeval tale of pride and strife, of coming of age in a world where chivalry is a luxury seldom afforded, especially by men of power. An awkward misfit, loathed by his powerful and autocratic grandmother, nine-year-old Fulke FitzWarin leaves his family to be fostered in the household of Joscelin de Dinan, Lord of Ludlow. Here Fulke will learn knightly arts, but before he can succeed, he must overcome the deep-seated doubts that hold him back. Hawise is Joscelin's youngest daughter and she befriends Fulke. As they grow up, an implacable enemy threatens Ludlow and as the pressure mounts, their friendship changes until one fateful day they find themselves staring at each other across a divide. Not only does Fulke have to overcome the shadows of his childhood, he faces a Welsh threat to his family's lands, and the way he feels about Hawise endangers all his hard won confidence. As the menace to Ludlow intensifies, he must either confront the future head on, or fail on all counts, not knowing if Hawise stands with or against him.

I think Chadwick's biggest virtue as a writer is the way she writes her characters. She actually make them come alive without using the usual ploy of giving them modern ideas for better identification with the reader. They remain true to their time and traditions but at the same time they express feelings and have virtues and faults that are in temporal and give them further depth. She also has a wonderful sense of setting and period which makes for very believable stories.

The book tells the story of a young boy, fostered in a Lord's house so he can "spread his wings" and become a leader of men and head of his family. In this new environment he will face some challenges, learn to be a knight and meet different people. Far from his harsh grandmother and his father and close to Joscelin de Dinan, whom he admires, Brunin learns what it takes to be a knight and face the challenges of 12th century England divided by a civil war that made Lords change sides and win or loose castles according to the king's will. Surrounding Brunin are the Lady Sybilla, Joscelin's wife, Hawise, their daughter, and Marion, whose behaviour will have a big influence in their future. Brunin develops a special friendship with Hawise which will be the foundation for their romantic relationship.

Chadwick mentions at the end how she felt compelled to write the story of Fulke Fitzwarin’s parents after she had finished Lords of The White castle. Fulke Fitzwarin was a medieval outlaw who had his story written down in the 13th century and may well be one of the origins of the Robin Hood legend.

Grade: A

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