Title: The Winter Mantle
Author: Elizabeth Chadwick
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
# of Pages: 512
Favorite line: "Do not seek to sweeten the potion."
With a practiced hand, Chadwick spins an irresistible historical romp that spans two generations. In 1067, William the Conqueror has successfully crushed the English at the Battle of Hastings. Compelling an array of British nobles to accompany him back to Normandy as his enforced guests, he unwittingly sets into motion a series of events that will ultimately lead to passion and betrayal. When Lady Judith, William's niece, catches the eye of Waltheof Siwardsson, earl of Huntingdon, he vows to make her his bride. Equally taken with the robust earl, Judith wages a private war between self-preservation and lust. Eventually convincing William to allow them to wed, Waltheof pledges his allegiance to the Norman king. Finding his pledge increasingly difficult to honor, he becomes involved in an ill-fated rebellion against Norman rule, a decision that has profound consequences for the futures of both his wife and his daughter. History, romance, and suspense are interwoven in a heartrending tale of love and loss on an appropriately grand scale. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
This is the second Elizabeth Chadwick novel I've read, after The Greatest Knight. I enjoyed The Greatest Knight far more than The Winter Mantle. The Winter Mantle tackles two generations in one book, and this seems to stint characters of time to develop. Judith, the main female role in the first half of the book, is a hard and unlikable person and it's hard to imagine how someone as gregarious and easy-going as Waltheof would ever fall in love with her. Simon, the male lead for the second half of the book, is enigmatic and distant, which makes it difficult for a reader to really get any sort of thoughts about who he is as a person. From the way he is presented in the first half of the book, he was a happy and friendly boy. Somehow, in the second half, though, he changes into someone who likes to keep his secrets.
For this reason, I found the love stories in the novel hard to fathom, as no one seemed to have any reason to really be in love with the other person. Indeed, so much of their time was spent apart that it was hard to imagine one even really knowing the other. For all its 500 pages, the story moved very quickly and covered a lot of time and space, so I felt like there were gaps. That said, I do understand that life in the Middle Ages didn't move very quickly and I can completely understand why there would be gaps of a few years between chapters.
In terms of historical accuracy and telling a good story, Chadwick is excellent. I think she exceeds Sharon Kay Penman in keeping a storyline moving at a pace so as not to bore a reader. She writes interesting characters and gives readers a good story. I look forward to reading the few other books of hers that I have on my shelf. I only think that this particular novel is not her best, and I wouldn't recommend it as a starting point for her. Of course, I have only ever read The Greatest Knight, so maybe you should go there first :-) Though I also have The Falcons of Montabard, Shadows and Strongholds, Lords of the White Castle, and The Marsh King's Daughter.