Wednesday, March 30, 2011

To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick

Elizabeth Chadwick is one of my all-time favorite historical fiction authors, ranking up there with Diana Gabaldon and Anya Seton. I just discovered her novels last year, but I look forward to reading each of her books and silently curse the books that keep me away from a new Chadwick novel.

Chadwick’s stories come alive with riveting, unique (and historical accurate) characters with compelling stories. Chadwick has a research philosophy for her novels that impresses an engineer like me who enjoys facts and figures. Not only does she use primary and secondary sources, but she also includes reenactments with an early medieval Living History Society. Elizabeth Chadwick’s research pays off as her vivid writing makes you feel like you can not only see the characters, but feel the embroidery, smell the horses, and taste the medieval food. You feel totally immersed in the story and it is a very enjoyable experience.

To Defy a King is the story of Mahelt Marshal, the daughter of William and Isabelle Marshal from The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion (in my top ten reads of 2010). Mahelt is the favorite daughter of William. She is a spirited young girl, and becomes a spirited young bride after the Marshal family is forced to give up her older brother to King John for a hostage. Hugh Bigod is the son of the Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk and his wife Ida, the former mistress of King Henry II. Roger does not like how Mahelt is not a “Bigod wife” who will be content to remain in the background strictly obeying her husband. There are definitely some in-law issues for Mahelt to deal with as she learns to be a young wife and mother, but there are is also a great deal of love and passion between her and Hugh to make up for it.

While I loved Mahelt and Hugh’s story, there were also a lot of great secondary characters in To Defy a King. Roger and Ida’s history and love story intrigued me. I can’t wait to read their story in For the King’s Favor. Ida’s bastard son with King Henry, William Longespee, Earl of Salisbury was a great character. He holds a special place in Ida’s heart, but is always at constant friction with Hugh, Ida’s oldest legitimate son with Roger Bigod. He seems like a bad guy when the story first starts, but is a wonderfully rounded character who is torn by conflicting loyalties to his royal brother and his half-siblings. By the end of the novel, his growth had given me a totally different view of him.

And of course – one of the best characters in the book was the evil King John. Whenever I would think, that cannot possibly be true, it really was and his evil misdeeds just kept growing throughout the book. As my husband Ben likes to quote his world history professor “There was only one King John.” I LOVED how Mahelt dealt with King John.

Overall To Defy a King was a enthralling historical fiction novel with superb characters and a remarkable story. Even if you haven’t read the other books about William Marshal, this book is a great book on its own merits.

To Defy a King is my sixth novel in the Historical Fiction Challenge 2011.

Drop by tomorrow (or I guess later today) for a guest blog post by Elizabeth Chadwick! I’m running a bit behind at odd hours because of a teething baby and a ton of permitting work.

Book Source: Advance Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!!


  1. Thank you for this review of a gorgeous book.

  2. I own and enjoyed Chadwick's 1st two books about William Marshall, and am intrigued by Mahelt. I would love to win this book! My email is

  3. This post is not the giveaway post . . . please post your giveaway comments on this post: in order to be entered in the giveaway.

  4. I loved this book! The relationship between Hugh and Mahelt was so realistic - good and bad. And you are so right about Longspee, he really grows on you. Thanks for the review.

  5. Thank you for the terrific review Laura - it's always nerve-wracking wondering what readers are going to think.