Monday, April 6, 2015

Elizabeth Chadwick - A Place Beyond Courage

The early twelfth century is a time for ambitious men to prosper, and royal servant John FitzGilbert Marshal is one of them. Raised high as the kin of the deceased King Henry battle each other for England's throne, John reaps rich rewards but pays a terrible price for the choices he makes - as do his family.
His wife, fragile, naïve Aline is hopelessly unequipped to cope with the demands of a life lived on the edge and, when John is seriously injured in battle, her worst nightmare is realised. Sybilla, bright, forthright sister to the Earl of Salisbury, finds herself used as a bargaining counter when her brother seeks to seal a truce with his troublesome neighbour, John FitzGilbert. And then there is Sybilla's small son, William, seized hostage by the King for John's word of honour. But sometimes keeping your honour means breaking your word...

Comment: I got this book last year, in a second handed bookstore, the day I went to a book fair. I've read some books by the author I really liked and one or two I didn't like as much but I was still eager to read more of her work. Being the first in her William Marshall series, I was glad this one was available. I decided it would be a good first book for April.

This is the story of John Fitzgilbert, William Marshall's father. John is the king's marshal and his job is to make sure everything runs smoothly where the king is and in the places where the king has a rule and so on. John is a practical man  and in the time of royal fights and heirs he must do his duty and keep his family safe, and still be a loyal man. But sometimes his loyalty might cost him other things.
John knows his life isn't simple and he deals with his duty, his need to keep those he defends safe and his own dedication might be a problem, especially after one of his sons is in danger...

As you might have noticed, my little description above isn't polished enough. to be honest I don't know how to talk about this book without wanting to slap John. Yes, he's been dead for centuries and centuries..
Usually I like ms Chadwick's work on real life historical figures and her imagination in mixing real History to her fiction chosen details to create this work of fiction based on historical facts.
However, this is a double issue, because if by one side I do like her fiction parts better, I know it's based on historical facts which isn't something I enjoy much in fiction, much less in romances. And while I like knowing historical facts, I don't like to know things weren't as romantic as sometimes authors paint them in fiction. So, to not annoy myself completely I try not to venture into historical fiction a lot, I prefer romances because they are totally fake and result of imagination.

In this book I couldn't let go of the fact I was reading about people who lived in those times, when rules and society were so different from nowadays. Those things faced with the imagination of the author clashed with the real, settled facts and the whole issue just made the book annoying for me.
To make things clear: I couldn't let go of the fact women were basically brood mares and commodities and a means to a end and that really annoyed me. Somehow I couldn't distance myself from the setting in which the book was based upon.

The thing is, I didn't like John's character at all. Sure he is a byproduct of an era and a place where life was so much different from what we see today and even what we can imagine - tv shows and movies only go so far - that to actually think it most certainly was how society behaved is totally depressing.
John (and everyone at the time obviously) certainly thought he was doing his best but while some people would lead a boring, anonymous life, John had a place and a job to do. I didn't like him and considering the plot revolves around him and what he did and what he had in his power, my time wasn't spend that well.

John has a lot of faults, but he is the key character and he is the stereotype for men at that time and I hate to think how women were mistreated and how they had to deal with such a lack of options and voice. But John here is the one I'm "judging". John married because he thought he had to. He didn't care the woman he was marrying wasn't much into it because it just was how things were done. He marries her, has children with her but there's no love. His wife has a quiet personality, she likes to pray and being out of trouble, out of focus and refers to follow and to let others do the harsh thinking. She may be called a wimp, weak. But she is a person. It irritated me to no end how she was treated and her wished weren't respected. But it just was how things were done.
But did John defend her, treated her well? No, as soon as he could he ditched her and married someone else, someone younger and with a personality that better suited him. Sure, I get the fact things were done like this at the time and that people saw and did things differently. But it annoyed me to read about it all.

In the end, I skipped some pages and I was so annoyed with John, not even the better pages towards the end and the HEA were enough to upgrade this for me.
The writing is good as always, the research is obviously well done and vast, the amount of detail and historical information is up to the standard this author offers her readers. Technically, everything is as it should.
But the story itself and the characters inside didn't win me over and frankly, I don't feel like reading the other books on this series so soon. I guess I might try something else by her instead if possible.
I really didn't like John nor his actions, and not the fact he lived in a time where men were pigs to women and he wasn't special enough to behave differently!
I know, I'm reading this wrong, or with the wrong frame of mind, but that the way it goes, sorry.
Grade: 5/10

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