The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick
William Marshal has spent his life following his honor and his conscience, and it has landed him in the valued service of three kings. With Richard the Lion Heart and both Henrys, he maintained a fairly good relationship, but with King John, things are a bit more thorny. John doesn’t fully trust Marshal – or anyone, really – so things between the two of them will always be somewhat a battle of wits between the two of them. Luckily for William he has his wife Isabelle, a smart strong woman in her own right who loves him and is his most valuable counselor as he must negotiate the perilous waters of King John’s court.
Although I very much enjoyed “The Greatest Knight,” I absolutely loved “The Scarlet Lion.” Elizabeth Chadwick is a consummate author of historical fiction, so the difference was not that one work was less than another, I don’t think, so much as which part of Marshal’s life I found more interesting. In his early days, William Marshal was surrounded by Henry and Eleanor, by Richard. These personages are endlessly interesting, but Marshal himself was a knight and slowly gaining prestige. By the point of his life which is covered by “The Scarlet Lion,” Marshal had become one of the most powerful, respected men in England, and the story being told is a combination of his life with his family and the balancing act of maintaining power and favor under King John, which is a story I personally happen to find slightly more interesting.
So far Elizabeth Chadwick is 2 for 2 with me, and I would put her on par with Sharon Kay Penman for grand, epic historical fiction (and that is a very good thing in my book, being compared to Penman). I’m pretty much up for reading anything of Chadwick’s I can get in the States now, so I hope that Sourcebooks continues publishing her books over here. Highly recommended for lovers of historical fiction.
Edited to add: One thing I really appreciated about this book is how Chadwick made it stand on its own. She gives the reader enough background that if you know nothing about Marshal you would be fine (although a vague familiarity with what was happening in England at that time wouldn’t hurt), but also doesn’t spend a lot of time reiterating things that someone who read “The Greatest Knight” would think “yes, I know!” She walks a very fine line here and does it quite well.
Check back here tomorrow for a guest post from Elizabeth and a giveaway.