Sunday, October 21, 2012

Book Review: A Place Beyond Courage by Elizabeth Chadwick

Sometimes keeping your honour means breaking your word . . .

The early twelfth century is a time for ambitious men to prosper - and royal servant John FitzGilbert is one of them. But when the old king dies and his successor is appointed, John's position at court is weakened and his wife, the pious, pliant Aline, is hopelessly unequipped to deal with a life lived on the edge.

John knows the only way to protect his lands and his children is to divorce Aline. He meets his match in new wife Sybilla, daughter of his enemy Patrick of Salisbury, as she possesses a strength and courage that equals his own.  But when Sybilla's son, William, is seized by the king, John is forced to make a terrible sacrifice . . .

Synopsis courtesy of

My Review

4.5 Stars

A Place Beyond Courage tells the story of John FitzGilbert, marshal to England's King Henry II and father to William Marshall, who is himself the subject of an Elizabeth Chadwick novel titled The Greatest Knight.  In his years of dedicated service to his king, John's loyalty has never been questioned, but when Henry II dies and his nephew Stephen claims the throne, John finds his position at court no longer secure and is forced to make a decision about where to place his loyalties.   But committing himself to Empress Matilda's cause puts John's life and lands under constant threat from the King and his supporters.  After several years of conflict, John forms an alliance with one of his enemies in an effort to keep his lands safe.  This alliance, however, means John must divorce his wife, Aline, a woman better suited for life in a convent, and marry Sybilla, the daughter of his enemy.  Although initially wed for purely strategic purposes, John and Sybilla's marriage turns into a love match, and together they meet head on the challenges that face both them and their country. 

One of the things I like best about Chadwick's novels is the rich historical detail woven into each story.  This detail vividly brings to life the eras in which Chadwick's novels are set.  I also appreciate how Chadwick is able to strike the right balance between the character-driven aspects of her plot and those aspects that, along with rich historical detail, create a strong sense of time and place.  As a result, readers become intimately familiar not only with Chadwick's characters, but also with the personalities and events that shaped the world they lived in.  A Place Beyond Courage is no exception, painting vibrant portraits of both John FitzGilbert and Sybilla of Salisbury, while also chronicling King Stephen and Empress Matilda's war for the English crown that permeated virtually every aspect of their lives.   

Highly recommended to all readers of historical fiction, especially those with an interest in the medieval era and English history. 

Note:  This novel comes from my own personal collection.