This novel is a prequel to Chadwick’s series about William Marshall, telling the story of William’s father, John FitzGilbert. John is a trusted member of Henry I’s court with important responsibilities as his Marshall. He is also an ambitious knight whose strategic skills are tested after Henry’s death, when Matilda and her cousin Stephen fight for 10 years over who has the right to rule. With allegiances shifting back and forth, John must repeatedly weigh his options to determine how best to protect his lands and family. And that’s just what he does, through two marriages and the gains and losses of assorted holdings.
But unlike other novels about this era, this one doesn’t get too bogged down in battle details. Instead, Chadwick keeps the focus on the stories of people, and therefore held my interest throughout.