Summary: Royal protector. Loyal servant. Forgotten hero.
A penniless young knight with few prospects, William Marshal is plucked from obscurity when he saves the life of Henry II's formidable queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. In gratitude, she appoints him tutor to the heir to the throne, the volatile and fickle Prince Henry. But being a royal favorite brings its share of danger and jealousy as well as fame and reward. A writer of uncommon historical integrity and accuracy, Elizabeth Chadwick resurrects the true story of one of England's greatest forgotten heroes in a captivating blend of fact and fiction. The Greatest Knight restores William Marshal to his rightful place at the pinnacle of the Middle Ages, reflecting through him the triumphs, scandals, and power struggles that haven't changed in eight hundred years. -- Sourcebooks Landmark
I love historical fiction so I was looking forward to reading THE GREATEST KNIGHT by Elizabeth Chadwick. The reviews for the book were pretty positive, but I have to admit that I wasn't completely sold on a book about a knight. I mean, I knew I enjoyed reading about kings and queens; but I was a tad bit worried that THE GREATEST KNIGHT would be too focused on battles and fighting and other "knight" stuff.
I had nothing to fear because I thought THE GREATEST KNIGHT was amazing! I adored every page of this book (and there were a lot of pages to love since the book was well over 500 pages.) I loved the characters, and I think Ms. Chadwick did a fantastic job of telling William Marshal's story. This book seemed to have a little bit of everything -- suspense, deceit, love, wars, scandals, etc. -- and it was an added bonus that I was able to get a little history lesson too.
I think one of the major reasons that I enjoyed this book so much was the character of William Marshal. The author mentions in the back of the book that he was an unsung hero and maybe even the greatest knight of the Middle Ages; and I think she portrayed him as a very complex, yet extremely, likable character. I'm not one to swoon (usually), but I could so picture William as "the man." Not only was he a noble warrior and very brave, but he had so much integrity. That's not to say that he didn't have flaws, because he certainly had some weaknesses -- he was human after all; however, I think the author developed his character so well and made him so believable to me.
Another thing I really appreciated about this novel was the author's writing style. I was blown away by how well the author brought this time period to life for me. Ms. Chadwick's descriptions of the houses, villages, food and clothing were so detailed and precise that I had no problem picturing the scenes in this book. For someone who knew little, if anything, about the Middle Ages, I felt I had a grasp on this time in history after reading THE GREATEST KNIGHT. I have no doubt that she conducted a tremendous amount of research to write this book. I was also very impressed with how she handled the battle scenes in the book. I am not one who enjoys reading about wars and the tactics behind them, but she managed to keep my interest through all of these pages. Overall, I think she did a remarkable job of telling William Marshal's story!
There were a few sentences towards the end of the book that really jumped out at me. I think they do an extremely good job of summing up some of the major themes of the book as they pertained to the character of William Marshal. "Loyalty, integrity, necessity. All were valid; all had shaped his life, and in different concentrations would continue to do so." These few words give the reader a great deal to consider about Marshal and his actions; and they provide a wonderful starting point to discuss the book and its characters. And while this book is rather long for the average book club, I think most readers would feel that it was a worthwhile read.
Although I love historical fiction, I admit that I don't know a lot about the 13th Century (or really almost any time period if I'm being honest with myself -- sadly, history just isn't my thing.) After reading THE GREATEST KNIGHT, I must say I was fascinated by these characters and their actions. I feel as if I learned a great deal from reading this book. As an added bonus, I found the following information posted on the Sourcebooks website and thought it was interesting enough to share:
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT ELIZABETH CHADWICK AND THE GREATEST KNIGHT:
The Greatness of William Marshal: The descendants of the Greatest Knight himself include George Washington and Winston Churchill, as well as the Stuart kings of England and Scotland. He was partly responsible for the Magna Carta. He vowed his body to the Templars and is buried in Temple Church in London.
The Appeal of the Time Period: There are very few novels about Marshal, and no one has covered him as in depth as Elizabeth Chadwick has. In addition, unlike the Tudor era, there are not extensive amounts of historical fiction set in the 13th century.
The Integrity of the Research: Elizabeth Chadwick's research is impeccable. She not only visited many locations, but she re-enacted with a living history society where a quarter of the membership are either historians or archaeologists, and she collected and used replica artifacts from the period and engaged in experimental archaeology. She has taken courses in various medieval studies to facilitate her knowledge.
The Breadth of the Audience: Readers who are fans of Sharon Kay Penman, Anya Seton, Diana Gabaldon, Phillipa Gregory, and Jean Plaidy will like Elizabeth Chadwick. She appeals to readers who are looking for historical accuracy and strong, believable characters, readers who want to feel that they are being immersed in the period with well-rounded characters.
Also I just think this book trailer really captures the essence of the book:
I am so excited that Ms. Chadwick will be stopping by on Friday to share some more about her wonderful book THE GREATEST KNIGHT. It's a terrific guest post that you won't want to miss. (Plus I will be having a giveaway for two copies of her book!)