Lords of the White Castle is Elizabeth Chadwick's eleventh book. Set in late twelfth and early thirteenth century England, it recounts the true tale of the outlaw Fulke FitzWarin, a proud man who dared to stand against King John in order to reclaim his family castle and his wife Maude le Vavasour.
Together they fought for justice, while founding a dynasty that lasted 200 years. This superb novel will appeal to readers who appreciate a rich historical background. As with her previous works, Ms Chadwick paints a detailed picture of the Middle Ages, both its glory and its less appealing aspects. The minutiae of everyday life is woven tightly into the narrative, enriching the background yet not overwhelming the story.
Every setting comes alive, from the banquet hall at Westminster Palace to the forest outside Canterbury into which Fulke and Maude flee after their marriage. In similar fashion, the language is neither overly archaic, nor annoyingly modern. The author uses a few choice older terms and more formal prose to create a medieval feel without drowning the reader in thees, thous, yeas and nays.
Her characters are true to their time. Fulke, Maude and King John elicit both sympathy and scorn, while the supporting players are vibrant entities, rather than mere foils for the protagonists. Fans of this period will delight in meeting Henry II, Richard I, William Marshal, the Earl of Chester, William of Salisbury and Hubert Walter and enjoy brief glimpses of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Isabella of Angoulême. Fulke and Maude moved in the highest echelons of Anglo-Norman society and it is to the author's credit that she depicts the well-known historical characters as living, breathing beings, not glittering icons.
The plot follows the facts known about Fulke and his struggle with King John. The numerous subplots are well integrated, serving to add depth to the main one rather than distracting from it. As is common when writing about the Middle Ages, the author must build upon a skeleton of history, adding nuances and taking license where necessary. Her talent lies in her ability to do so without destroying the overall historical integrity of her carefully researched background.
Some readers may find the use of omniscient point-of-view a little off-putting and there are a couple of times it isn't clear from whose point-of-view the story was being told. However, it by no means detracted from the story.
Ms. Chadwick has established herself as one of the premier writers of medieval fiction and her reputation is well deserved. She blends history, adventure and romance into a story that enthralls, entertains and educates.
This review first appeared in the Summer 2001 issue of The Ricardian Register.
© Teresa Eckford, 2002