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Customer Review

26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a dissenting voice, I'm afraid..., 23 Feb. 2008
This review is from: The Greatest Knight: The Story of William Marshal (Paperback)
I know everyone else here has raved about this novel but personally I found it trite, simplistic and far too one-dimensional. Reading is always about personal taste, but if you like your historical fiction dense, tense and immaculately written (more Dorothy Dunnett that Philippa Gregory) then I would not recommend this.

All the characters are either perfect (most of all William of whom more later) or villainous with no shading at all. Also the politics of the era are glossed over but the 'romance' element is fairly light so that the story falls between these too elements. The whole issue between Henry II and Eleanor is never really explained: one moment she's Queen, the next she's under practical house arrest but we never get to hear why. This is partly because Chadwick is trying to cram in so much 'history' in terms of chronology (there are frequent gaps of 2-3 years between chapters) that the story never really takes on any life.

William is so perfect that he's dull! He's 18 when we meet him, perfectly chivalrous, the perfect knight/warrior already, loves everyone, is adored by almost everyone he meets and hated by the few others who don't adore him - a paragon of such virtue that he cannot gain either my interest or my attention. He's also incredibly out of touch with the actual cultural ideas and mores of his time e.g. he eschews prostitutes, he treats all his social inferiors as his complete equals, he refuses to treat woman as either sexual objects or breeding mares and believes in a marriage of true love and equality etc etc - I'm sorry but this is female Mills & Boon type fantasy written in extremely pedestrian and cliche-ridden language. I'm shocked that other reviewers can commend Chadwick's historical research and sense of history with this depiction (Ok, I realise she thinks that a Marshal who actually is complicit with the values of his time might be unsympathetic to a contemporary audience but surely 'historical' fiction needs to create an atmosphere that takes in different thought patterns and cultural values?)

I'm sorry to be so negative as I was really looking forward to reading this book especially after all the other positive reviews, but I was so, so disappointed.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 Jul 2008 23:55:22 BDT
Bookworm says:
Has this reviewer researched William Marshall independantly? Artistic license has not been totally abused in this book - by contemporary accounts he was, by and large, the sort of man Elizabeth Chadwick portrays.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Oct 2009 15:22:06 BDT
S. Crispin says:
Mentioning Dorothy Dunnett was the giveaway as to why I might not find this book totally absorbing. thanks.

Posted on 22 Nov 2009 17:26:39 GMT
R. Jackman says:
I could speak at vast length on this subject, but won't bore people and hence I'll keep it short. The review is good, and accurate. I like books that don't paint characters in black and white and mostly people change with time anyway. As the decades fly by more and more evidence is coming to light that gives a new slant on a character. These pieces of evidence are usually very small, flimsy, from a third to ?th view point, and completely debatable. Propaganda has been around for thousands of years. These books are for entertainment purposes only and hence it really comes down to the type of book you like reading. So, if you're a die hard romantic that doesn't like to hear that William Marshalls' father John Marshall refused to surrender Newbury castle to save his five year old son saying "...hang him, I have the hammer and anvil to forge other and better sons", buy the book. Tough times back then and people were not like they are now. And yes I have researched.

Posted on 1 Mar 2010 22:49:29 GMT
Last edited by the author on 1 Mar 2010 22:51:29 GMT
B. Pullan says:
Thanks Roman Clodia, you've just saved me from buying this book of William the Marshall. I've come across him in lots of other books and thought this one would be interesting. I hate soppy sweet stories and I don't think william was such a goody , goody or he wouldn't have survived long in those days.


In reply to an earlier post on 22 Oct 2011 12:16:01 BDT
Being the best jouster and fighter in all of Christendom probably helped a little.

Posted on 8 Jan 2014 13:44:18 GMT
I agree with all of this review, but I still enjoyed it! William is perfect on the outside but riddled with doubt, and recognises his own failing in being too loyal to a flawed heir , and making rash promises in keeping with his high personal ideal, but wthout foreseeing how these might pan out. I say its worth a read, flaws and all :)

Posted on 13 Jul 2014 17:11:52 BDT
I agree with the sentiments of this review (though I have not read the book). The only thing I disagree with is the notion that the social mores of the time held it to be 'normal' for women to be treated as sex objects and breeding mares. To me, its like saying it was 'normal' for Medieval women to be locked in towers and flogged twice a week.
Evidence shows that women, even common women, could have an independent income and that they did have rights, they could own, bequeath and inherit property, they could make pleas in court, they were expected to be able to take charge of the day-to-day running of the household. In other words, they were far more than sex objects and breeding mares. Some women certainly were treated thus, but not everyone approved of such attitudes.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Jul 2014 15:08:24 BDT
Roman Clodia says:
@ Medieval Lady

I agree that the actual social positions of women throughout history is aways more complex than is frequently the case in the popular imagination: I guess I was just highlighting the way in which this book constructs William as being 'ahead of his time' (horrible phrase!) by highlighting his diversion from the way in which other men in the book treat and think of women.
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