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Classics Reissued: Shadows and Strongholds

By (March 24, 2013) No Comment

Shadows and StrongholdsShadows and Strongholds

By Elizabeth Chadwick

Sourcebooks, 2013


The Sourcebooks decision to reprint the novels of Elizabeth Chadwick should be cheered by all fans of historical fiction – this is fine, fine stuff, now given U.S. exposure in attractive new paperbacks.

This month sees the appearance of Shadows and Strongholds, which can be taken as a kind of prequel to Chadwick’s immensely popular Lords of the White Castle but can also be enjoyed by readers who’ve never heard of Chadwick or the earlier book. The story centers around sensitive, intelligent young 12th century nobleman’s son Brunin FitzWarin, who’s fostered into the household of his father’s friend Joscelin de Dinan, the Lord of Ludlow. In Joscelin’s home Brunin trains in the soldierly arts he’ll need in a country torn apart by civil war – and he also falls somewhat grudgingly in love with Joscelin’s headstrong daughter Hawise, although he has the (slightly anachronistic) tenderness to be appalled at the everyday threats even the best-intentioned women in his world encounter:

He thought of the rough, masculine talk between the grooms, squires, and knights of Joscelin’s company. He had learned much from keeping his mouth closed and his ears open. Women expected “sweet trysts” and those men who had the art of persuasion could often talk a woman into the bedstraw. Those who didn’t, or who found their partners unwilling despite cajolery, had either to resort to rougher kinds of wooing or remain frustrated. The men exchanged the best lines of love talk as if they were passwords into the place between a woman’s legs. There were crude names for the women who yielded, and equally crude ones for those who slapped faces and refused, all of it far distant from the wooing that women craved and seldom received.

Brunin’s fate and his happiness with Hawise are threatened not only by the turbulence of the times, with rival claimants vying for the English throne, but also by a wonderfully hissable villain named Gilbert de Lacy (although even while he’s preening and plotting, our author is investing him with a sometimes downright annoying amount of believable humanity). And throughout all the trials of our hero and heroine, Chadwick presents her readers with a beautifully realized medieval world – the sights and smells of everyday life, and the sounds of dialogue that’s expertly different from modern speech and yet instantly believable:

“I did not mean to besmirch your pride,” Joscelin said.

“I know that,” Brunin answered. “You spoke out of your own.”

“Always goes before a fall,” Joscelin said wearily.

Shadows and Strongholds originally appeared in the UK in 2004 and is now offered to U.S. readers in a handsomely designed paperback; it joins the growing catalogue of Sourcebook reprints of Elizabeth Chadwick’s books (including her superb Lady of the English), with the promise of more to come – welcome, and eagerly awaited.