Review: The Wild Hunt by Elizabeth Chadwick
Mass Market Paperback: 361 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books (July 20, 1992)
Genre: historical fiction/romance
Guyon FitzMiles, lord of Ledworth a son of a Welsh Marcher Barron (called so because their lands “march” with the borders of Wales) returns home from the court with some grave news. He’s been ordered by the slightly perverse king William II Rufus, to marry 16-year-old Lady Judith of Ravenstow, the heiress to great lands, coveted also by her evil uncle, Robert de Belleme. His father is less than pleased as he believes this ordered marriage is tantamount to a death sentence because of the inevitable war his son will have to fight with de Belleme. The king’s will is nothing to trifle with, though. Guyon himself is also sad for personal reasons – he has to kiss goodbye to his beloved Welsh mistress, Rhosyn, who is pregnant but refuses to live with him or under his protection.
Some girls at 16 are already physically mature – almost grown women – but lady Judith is still little more than a child. She is also deeply terrified of the physical aspects of marriage. As a very young girl she witnessed very rough treatment her mother received, being beaten and raped, often in public, by her brutal oik of a husband now happily dead; Judith, not knowing her future lord, doesn’t hope for a better treatment for herself. However, in some people adversity builds strength and despite her young age, Judith is determined to stand up to her new husband, and not be a weakling.
Small wonder marriage turns out to be a difficult experience for both Guyon and Judith, with such a very rough start and such a burden of bad emotions, but fortunately Guyon proves to be not only an experienced lover but also a compassionate and patient partner. He is so moved by the terror of his child bride that he refrains from sex on their wedding night and also later he decides to wait until Judith matures, although they officially sleep in one bed. The problem is they have less and less time together to overcome the mutual distrust. The Welsh raid over the border, and Judith’s uncle Robert de Belleme with his lackeys are always determined to make mischief, even during Judith’s wedding. Guyon’s life is seriously threatened more than once as he gets caught up in the plotting and battling so endemic at the royal court at the end of the 11th century and beginning of the 12th century; many dark deeds and many dark secrets will be unveiled before Judith and Guyon, now passionate lovers, triumph over their evil enemies.
This is Ms Chadwick’s first novel and I must say it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. I liked the fact that the plot followed parallel lines: the personal history of Judith and Guyon, and the history of 12th-century feudal England. I liked it as far as it went but I wasn’t enraptured by it. Also some characters were not bad – I mean here mostly two women, Rhosyn and Judith. Guyon’s dog and Judith’s cat were a nice addition to the narration. The cover design is really pleasant too.
Anachronist turns into a mean nerd, sprouts horns and a tail
Ok, it is supposed to be a historical novel; in such books the author should, in my very humble opinion, try his/her best to do A LOT OF research and present the world as close to the epoch they’ve chosen as possible. Ms Chadwick chose 12th century England, but in her book we might find passages not being entirely in accordance with this setting.
For example Judith and Guyon both can read and write. Excuse me? These skills were not very popular even among the monarchs at that time. Apart from that one must ask: in what language they were taught and who has taught them? At the beginning of the 12th century the most common and often the only places where you could learn such skills were convents and monasteries; most probably you would be taught to write and read in Latin, the lingua franca of that age and many years to come. While the fact that Guyon, the heir of a rich baron, might have had his private tutor in the shape of a monk or a priest, wouldn’t surprise me much. It was unlikely but it could have happened. I couldn’t simply imagine Judith’s obnoxious father squandering money on a teacher of that unworthy daughter of his, though. If you think I am going over the top, here’s more. After the murder of a Welsh merchant compassionate Judith writes a letter of consolation to his family and the letter is read also by Guyon’s mistress, Rhosyn, who later tells Guyon his wife didn’t sound childish in it anymore. Right. Hello, hello, Earth to the author, Earth to the author…time to return to the solid ground of reality. My first question is: in what language was the letter written? Latin? Welsh? Old French? Old Saxon? English? The most probable answer is Latin but then how come a simple Welsh wench or a family of a common Welsh merchant could read Latin? Who taught them for a change?
I also wasn’t entirely persuaded by the pair of protagonists, especially Guyon. Dear me, that guy could have never existed. EVER. Imagine a handsome 30-year-old man in full health, a former courtier who used to enjoy carnal pleasures to the full, sleeping with his nubile wife for a YEAR in the same bed and never touching her…some saints failed an analogical trial which lasted only ONE NIGHT. Although the life of a courtier was a highly stressful morsel of bread and the debauchery of the court was always rather on a higher level than ordinary standards, Guyon returns home practically unspoiled…he is simply too good to be true. And the scene in which he almost died defending a pair of pretty much unknown people just because it seemed the right thing to do…do forgive me my retching and enough of it. I think I made my point. I have to say the lack of experience shows in this book.
As a recreational read it will do. I am still willing to try other books of Ms Chadwick; I’ve heard they are better. We’ll see.