Shadows and Strongholds by Elizabeth Chadwick

SHADOWS

Shadows and Strongholds by Elizabeth Chadwick
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (522 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

Ten-year-old Brunin FitzWarin is an awkward misfit in his own family. As an act of encouragement, his father sends him to be fostered as a knight in the household of Joscelin, Lord of Ludlow. Here he meets the lord’s youngest daughter, Hawise, and a strong friendship is formed.

When Brunin aids his lord in supporting Prince Henry in his battle against King Stephen for the English crown, his own land comes under threat. As the war for the crown and the land rages, Brunin must defeat the shadows of his childhood and put to use all he has learned, confronting his future head on.

For the reader, Shadows and Strongholds is a mindboggling sojourn in twelfth-century England with characters who struggle to hold on to their places of power and position continuously. They know the king can take it all away on a whim, so they fight his battles for him and court his favor at all cost. How love can survive, much less flourish in such an environment makes a fantastic tale. Another astonishing thing is the influence women have.

Brunin FitzWarin is told by Jascelin de Dinan, who fosters him, that he should never underestimate the influence of a woman in the scheme of things. Brunin, who’d been belittled and made to feel worthless by his grandmother Mellette, has a lot of maturing to do before he comprehends what Jascelin means. After a miserable life with his own family, Brunin finds things quite different in the de Dinan household. Love and mutual respect govern the family’s dealings with each other—a new experience for him.

As he grows from a withdrawn, quiet, fearful little boy to a knight to be reckoned with on the battlefield as well as a man able to love and be loved, the reader is immersed in the myriad of emotional and physical battles he fights to come into his own. His common sense in later years amazes considering his heritage and adversities he faced before he finds his place in the scheme of things.

The de Dinan girls Sibbi,who is older than Brunin; Hawise, the tomboy; and Marion, near Hawise’s age who was brought home by Jascelin when just a tiny traumatized waif are all a part of Brunin’s growing up years. Sibbi doctors cuts, scraps, and bruises; Hawise plays with him and challenges him in all kinds of endeavors. Marion clings and dreams of her marriage to him and builds her own warped world around that dream.

Many of the secondary characters touch Brunin’s life; but his arch enemies are Gilbert de Lacy and de Lacy’s knight Ernalt de Lyle. These two along with Brunin’s grandmother prove to be characters one can grow to hate. Their pride, arrogance, lack of consideration for others is appalling. One can almost feel the maliciousness emanating from them.

Elizabeth Chadwick does a phenomenal job of making characters seem real, of weaving a plot that ebbs, flows, and even runs wild at times. She does a magnificent job of pulling the reader into the historical time and engages all the senses to make situations throb with life. The love stories keep the reader on tenterhooks much of the time. How love survives in such harsh times leads on to believe that love is truly the greatest of all emotions. Pride deals it some bruising blows and circumstances threaten to bludgeon it to death, but it abides in a secret place not to be denied.

Ms. Chadwick in her unique style weaves a plot together with bloody battles, clandestine alliances, and struggles for power, pride of possessions, hatefulness, haughtiness, and downright evil, cruel deeds. Yet, she never lets the reader forget about the steadfastness of true love and the strength it gives even in the darkest of times. Shadows and Strongholds is and exquisitely written, compelling tale—a keeper to be enjoyed more than one time.

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