Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Wild Hunt by Elizabeth Chadwick

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Personal Library
Read: September 27, 2015

During the 12th-century Welsh March Wars, King William Rufus orders Guyon, 28, to marry nearly 16-year-old Judith in order to secure lands from Judith's despised uncle, Lord Robert de Belleme. As the marriage begins, Guyon is angry and Judith is terrified. He is experienced in both love and war, and is hostile about marrying this child and surrounding himself with such a nest of political vipers. Judith, having watched her father abuse her mother, expects her own marriage to include rape, beatings, and humiliation. What gradually develops between them is a trust and respect that eventually blooms into a passionate love. Their story is tightly interwoven with a tenuous political situation as brothers battle for the kingdom and the barons divide themselves between the factions.

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William II and Henry I of England
I've read Elizabeth Chadwick's The Wild Hunt three times now and I love it as much today as I did when I first discovered it. As a teen, I was seduced by the romance between Guyon and Judith, but as an adult I find myself draw to the characters, atmosphere, politics, history and emotional conflict. Romance aside, there is a certain timelessness to the narrative that appeals on a variety of levels. 

Guyon's relationship with Judith might sound odd to some, but the pairing of a twenty-eight year old to a maid of sixteen was quite acceptable in the twelfth century and I like that Chadwick didn't shy from exploring the intricacies of that age gap. The novel spans four years and the emotions she illustrates in both hero and heroine are intensely authentic. The relationship ebbs and flows, it changes as the characters grow together and that really worked for me. 

Guyon's relationship Rhosyn is equally intriguing. Chadwick's treatment of the Welshwoman in downright captivating. On the surface, she is Judith's rival, a pebble in the boot of the Lady's marriage, but as a reader I couldn't help respecting Rhosyn's position and spirit. She is honest to herself, kind, generous, gentle, sensitive, accepting, practical and realistic. I liked that. Too often, authors paint the other woman in extreme shades, but I felt Chadwick's approach thought-provoking and appreciate how she handled Guyon's conflicting emotional allegiances without physical infidelity or blatant stereotyping. 

Several members of the supporting cast also caught my eye. The author had no cause to develop them as she did, but conflicts each faced over the course of the story added much to the fabric of the narrative. Eluned's childish infatuation and jealousy, Rhys' sense of possession and developing understanding of the world and Alicia's struggle for happiness both during and after her marriage pulled me further into the story. Each has an individual journey and I liked how their struggles played into the main story line. 

Chadwick's book marked my first introduction to the Welsh March Wars, but I've learned a lot about them over the years and revisiting the novel only heightens my admiration for her handling of the material. Most who read the book will remember the character drama, but the power struggle between Guyon and the other marcher lords is rather interesting if you've an interest in period politics. The novel touches on the death of William II and ascension of Henry I, but Chadwick's focus is definitely on the border violence that characterized the age. 

Atmospherically, I love this piece. There are a couple of words, treadmill for example, that stand out like sore thumbs, but for the most part the language and descriptions feel genuine to the era. Chadwick obviously understands the period and the lifestyles of those who lived in it. Folk remedies such as moldy bread are prominently depicted, but no one feigns to know why the treatment is effective and there are no undue hints that the concoction of bacteria on the aging crusts is in fact penicillin.

Bottom line, The Wild Hunt is a wonderful book. Brilliant in both historic detail and fictional drama. Highly recommended. 

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"I cannot tell you, love. Call it a political secret if you will, or just plain discretion. It is a confidence I think I would rather die than break."
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1 comment:

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Great review. That, along with the fact that you've read this book three times, makes me want to read it! Another for my towering TBR stack.