Note: I received early access to this novel through netgalley in exchange for writing an impartial review. Thank you Little Brown.
Awarded four stars on Goodreads.
Elizabeth Chadwick’s (one of my favorite historical fiction authors) latest book centers on the little-known marriage between Joanna of Munchensi (c 1230-1307) and William de Valence (c. 1228 – 1296) — who become important figures at the court of England’s King Henry III (1207-1272). She is the granddaughter of the famous knight, William Marshall (1147-1219 -the subject of many of his author’s other historical novels). William de Valence is the son of Isabella of Angoulême (1186-1246) by her second husband Hugh de Lusignan (1183-1249). And since Isabelle’s first husband was the infamous King John (1166-1216 – of Robin Hood fame), it means William is also half-brother to King Henry III. (I know it’s confusing.)
In the author’s note at the end of the book, Chadwick summarizes much of what is actually known about these two historical figures. It turns out factual information about Joanna and William is limited. Yet Chadwick has taken what little exists and created a rich and wonderful reading experience, one where I not only felt I knew and understood these two main characters but also felt immersed in 13th century England.
Chadwick’s great skill as a writer is the way she weaves in simple details from the time period. A character visiting a market, or feeding unexpected visitors, or meting out justice to a lawbreaker — all become opportunities Chadwick uses to enrich our knowledge of the era.
By all historical accounts, Joanna and William’s marriage became a love match, a pairing of two intelligent and resourceful people. And Joanna is every bit as strong as her husband. Much of the drama in this story comes from the surrounding events of the time. Chiefly the Second Barons’ rebellion against King Henry III, led by Simon de Montfort (c 1208- 1265 – husband to King Henry III’s sister, Eleanor) and his supporters. In fact, the book ends when that rebellion is resolved in 1265, even though the marriage of Joanna and William goes on for some 30 more years. (Perhaps Chadwick plans a sequel.)
I’m not sure why the author ended the book where she did, but I would have appreciated at least an Afterward with information about what became of this powerful couple in their subsequent years together. It would also have been OK with me to have a little less detail about the shifting politics of the rebellion, since my interest remained with the more personal stories of Joanna and William, their friends, allies, and even enemies — so many of whom were influential at the court of King Henry III and his successor, Edward I. Still, minor criticism and I HIGHLY recommended the book.
More about the author, Elizabeth Chadwick.
You may be interested in my reviews of other historical novels by Elizabeth Chadwick.
Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy
The William Marshall Series (partial)