Top critical review
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Not her best
on 27 August 2010
To Defy a King is the story of Mahelt Marshal, eldest daughter of the famous William Marshal--who appears as the main character in two of Chadwick's previous novels, and a minor character in a handful of others. As the oldest daughter of one of the most famous men in England, Mahelt married Hugh Bigod. The novel covers a period of about ten years, from Mahelt's marriage to Hugh up through the Magna Carta.
I do love Elizabeth Chadwick's novels; her writing really takes her reader back in time. But for some reason, I just didn't love this one quite as much. Maybe because there's so much less known about Mahelt than about her father, her character seems a lot sketchier here. Still, I thought Chadwick did a wonderful job of trying to ring her and Hugh to life. Hahelt matures as a character, but it's too abrupt; at one point she's running off to meet her brother in secret, the next she's a responsible young chatelaine. Maybe having children made her more mature and responsible, but it happened too suddenly for me.
Another frequent theme that pops up in the novel is loyalty; the Bigods and Marshals were on different sides of the King John conflict. Who should Mahelt side with: the family she was born into or the side that her adoptive family is on? Like a previous reviewer, I thought that Chadwick should have focused more on the internal struggle that Mahelt faces--and there's a lot of opportunity to deal with the topic in this novel.
Still, as I've said before, Chadwick really knows how to get her reader into the mindset of her medieval characters. Her research is always detailed, and her descriptions of the time and place in which her novels are set are always absorbing. I think there's a lot more promise for this book--but if you're new to Elizabeth Chadwick's novels, I'd start with her books on Mahelt's father, instead--The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion. To Defy a King assumes that the reader knows about William Marshal, so his involvement in this story is more peripheral. The ending of the novel is a bit open-ended, which makes me think that a sequel may one day be in the works.