The Champion by Elizabeth Chadwick

Considering how much I enjoy historical fiction, Elizabeth Chadwick is one of those authors I feel I should probably love. Until recently though, I had only tried to read one of her books – which I think was Lords of the White Castle – and couldn’t get into it at all. On a visit to the library a couple of weeks ago I decided it was time to give her another chance and as I don’t know much about any of her books, I chose this one almost at random.

The Champion is set in France, Wales and England towards the end of the 12th century. Our hero is Alexander de Montroi, a seventeen-year-old novice monk who runs away from the monastery after being abused by the sub-prior. Deciding to swap the religious life for the battlefield, Alexander asks his older brother, Hervi, to help him become a knight. He proves to be a skilled fighter and is soon an important member of Hervi’s camp, jousting and taking part in tourneys (tournaments).

It’s here that Alexander meets and falls in love with Monday de Cerizay, the daughter of Hervi’s friend and fellow knight. Despite having wealthy relatives in England, Monday has spent her whole life travelling around the tourney circuit. Having seen what this lifestyle has done to her parents, Monday longs to better herself. So when Alexander asks her to marry him, she panics and leaves the camp without letting him know where she is going. Years later, Monday and Alexander meet again and have to begin rebuilding their relationship all over again, despite the attempts of Monday’s rich and powerful grandfather to split them up – and the reappearance of Alexander’s sworn enemy, Eudo Le Boucher.

The medieval world Elizabeth Chadwick has created in The Champion is amazingly vivid and believable. The amount of detail she goes into when describing clothes, fabrics, food and drink etc is very impressive. In particular I thought the descriptions of the knights’ camps at the tourneys were very well written and felt realistic. Chadwick shows us the less glamorous side of a knight’s life: worrying about money, searching for a rich man to sponsor them in the tourneys, looking for work in the winter, as well as the constant travelling around from camp to camp, running the risk of being defeated in battle and losing their horse, their possessions or even their life.

There are a few real historical figures who appear in the book, including Richard Coeur de Lion (Richard the Lionheart), his brother John, Count of Mortain (the future King John of England) and the knight, William Marshal. But it’s not really necessary to be familiar with the history of this period, as the focus is very much on the fictional lives of Alexander and Monday. I liked Alexander from the beginning, though I wasn’t so fond of his brother Hervi (maybe because his first appearance in Chapter One doesn’t really endear him to the reader) but as the story progressed I loved watching his relationship with Alexander develop, playing the role of the protective older brother. In fact, I thought the male characters in this book were stronger overall than the female ones. I didn’t find Monday a very memorable character and I didn’t always agree with or understand her actions either.

Once I got into this book, I really enjoyed it. I didn’t think the romantic storyline was very original or imaginative, but the wonderful medieval setting more than made up for it. I feel more like giving Elizabeth Chadwick’s other books a chance now that I know I do enjoy her work and my failure with Lords of the White Castle was probably just a case of the wrong book at the wrong time. Any suggestions as to which one I should try next?

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8 thoughts on “The Champion by Elizabeth Chadwick

  1. Anbolyn says:

    I’ve heard of Elizabeth Chadwick, but wasn’t aware that she wrote historical fiction. I’m not a fan of the medieval period so any author who can write about it with gusto and make it seem realistic gets my admiration. And those character names! I have to also like an author who can come up with such great names for their characters.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I thought the names of the characters were great too! I’ve read quite a lot of novels set in the medieval period and was very impressed by Chadwick’s portrayal of medieval life.

  2. Laura's Reviews says:

    This is an Elizabeth Chadwick that I haven’t read yet! I need to put it on my list!

    If you enjoyed this book, I highly recommend The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick. It’s about William Marshall’s early years and is a fantastic book. It was on my top ten reads of last year!

  3. Charlie (The Worm Hole) says:

    I love Chadwick’s style of writing, the way you can have a sort of experience of how it was to live at the time. I’d recommend Shadows And Strongholds if you’ve read Lords Of The White Castle because it’s about the generation of the family previous. It’s a different book to white castle though so I wouldn’t worry about the same family thing being an issue.

    • Helen says:

      I can’t remember Lords of the White Castle very well as it was a few years ago when I read it, but I’ll definitely think about trying Shadows and Strongholds. Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. Veens says:

    I have definitely heard of Chadwick. I am glad you enjoyed this. I do not have any of her books but someday I will get her books.

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