Review of The Champion

Elizabeth Chadwick has been publishing for years. Why did it take me so long to find her?

A writer of historical fiction, her specialty is the Middle Ages. She has nineteen books to her credit. See what I mean about not discovering her before now? Especially since her first book was published in 1989 (The Wild Hunt), and is still in print.

After I read  The Champion (1998), I took a look at her web site. It’s beautifully designed, has a Medieval look to it, and is packed with information about her books and research. You can also find her reference library (an extensive list of her resources), her biography, a glossary, music she enjoys listening to while writing, and much more.

The Champion begins with the two brothers, Hervi and Alexander, around whom most of the story revolves. Hervi is the older, and a seasoned tourney knight. He believes his younger brother Alexander is leading the religious life at Cranwell Abbey, where he’d been sent as a young boy. Abused by one of the priests, however, Alexander escapes and sets out to find his brother. Exhausted and near starvation when he arrives at Hervi’s camp, Alexander begs to be taken in. When he regains his health, Alexander begins training to become a tourney knight.

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Monday de Cerizay and her mother and father are friends of Hervi and also live in the camp. As she and Alexander grow older, Monday begins to have feelings for Alexander, but by this time he’s made a name for himself on the field and is sought after by many beautiful maidens. One night, when both he and Monday have had too much wine, she gives in to her feelings for him and they make love. Although Alexander offers her marriage, she realizes he doesn’t love her, and having lost both her mother and father, she sets off on her own.

There are some excellent villains in this book. Eudo le Boucher, a fearsome tourney knight who wants Alexander dead; King John, who takes Monday as his mistress, then casts her aside for his twelve-year-old bride; Monday’s own grandfather, who wants her only to broker a marriage with a wealthy family; and perhaps the worst of all: Brother Alkmund, the sub-prior of Cranwell Abbey. At one point, le Boucher and Monday’s grandfather join together to destroy Alexander, with the king’s tacit approval. Chadwick does an especially good job with King John (brother of Richard the Lionhearted). He’s selfish and heartless, uses people cruelly, and is by nature jealous. When the child he and Monday have together dies, he expresses no sorrow and has no words of comfort for her.

The historical detail in this book is meticulous, so visual and rich, I felt as if I were watching a movie. Chadwick’s description of the clothing–rendered in especially great detail because Monday is a sempstress–is outstanding. Everything to do with the tourney field, and actual battles as well, is real and immediate, including descriptions of the swords and swordplay, shields, chain mail, and horsemanship.

I can’t wait to read another of Chadwick’s books!

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