Saturday, May 29, 2010

To Defy A King by Elizabeth Chadwick

A story of huge emotional power set against the road to Magna Carta and the fight to bring a tyrant king to heel.
A story of huge emotional power set against the road to Magna Carta and the fight to bring a tyrant king to heel.

The privileged daughter of one of the most powerful men in England, Mahelt Marshal's life changes dramatically when King John suspects her father of treason. Her brothers are taken hostage and to keep her safe, Mahelt's father marries her to Hugh Bigod, heir to the great earldom of Norfolk. Mahelt finds adapting to her new life hard and although she comes to care for her husband deeply, defying her powerful father in law brings disgrace and threatens her bond with Hugh.

As the Magna Carta crisis looms, King John sets out to subdue the rebellious Bigods and when the royal forces besiege Framlingham Castle, Mahelt is caught up in a heart-rending struggle, knowing that she and her marriage might not survive as wide rifts open between family members.
After having read the stories of William Marshall and Isabelle de Clare I was looking forward to read about their eldest daughter, Mahelt Marshall. Elizabeth Chadwick is another author that never lets me down and I am happy to say that To Defy a King was another wonderful read.

The book starts with familiar events but now from Mahelt's perspective. When her parents decide to go to Ireland they want to leave her well cared for and so negotiate a marriage between Mahelt and Hugh Bigod, the eldest son of the powerful Earl of Norfolk. Mahelt is very much aware of her importance as a Marshall and of her sense of honor which sometime clashes with her father in law's will. Hugh, however, realises that his young wife's spirit is what attracts him and that he will have to employ subtlety to make her grow up and learn where her loyalties must now lie.

Although they are in good standing with the King, the Bigods have to take care about who they associate with and Mahelt's reckless actions may well put them in danger. They are connected with the King through Hugh’s half brother William LongespĂ©e but the relationship between the two is strained at best. It will take some time and persuasion till Mahelt learns to balance her feelings and weigh what's really important, to think of herself as a Bigod. And while Mahelt and Hugh work on their marriage, King John continues his rule through war and fear. Soon Hugh and the other barons start plotting to limit his power and protect their rights and privileges. If her father was always the king’s man even when in disgrace, now Mahelt sees her husband rebelling against the king and take up arms to defend what he believes in.

To Defy A King is a lovely book! Chadwick’s characters are people that you can identify with, who have the same basic expectations about life, love and society in general that everyone has and in each of her books there's a solid background of research that really brings to life the everyday events of the Middle Ages without it being obvious.

If Mahelt is a strong heroine, Hugh is the one I appreciated all the more because of the way he read his wife and managed to make her grow up and learn her place without crushing her. I wonder how Chadwick manages to consistently write male characters that are wonderful examples of humanity and sensitivity without losing any of their manliness? There are many reasons to pick up this book, the solid historical background, the plot that makes use of it and the engaging characters will appeal to every historical fiction lover but the truth is that her descriptions of feelings, emotions and needs with which we can identify will make this a terrific read for everyone.

Grade: 5/5

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