An aging troubadour recalls his young life in the service of England’s greatest knight in this riveting historic debut novel by Hamilton.
An elderly Lewellyn tells a story of his childhood, when he was ordered to ride out on a hunting party with Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine from Lusignan Castle. An orphaned scullery boy who, according to himself, is the “lowest of the low,” he’s surprised by the pleasant attention that one member of the party shows him. “Knights rarely acknowledged the existence of the serving class,” he muses. The young knight in question is Sir William Marshal, a tournament champion with an increasing reputation as a remarkable swordsman. When Baron Lusignan and his men attack the procession, Marshal shows his resilience in battle, disabling multiple opponents and allowing the queen sufficient time to flee. Finally overwhelmed by his attackers, he’s knocked out cold and awakens, wounded, in a filthy prison cell. The boy Lewellyn is also a captive, and during their imprisonment they develop a close bond. Lewellyn helps to remove a piece of chain mail lodged in the knight’s leg; later, they talk candidly of their lives. After Marshal’s ransom is paid, Lewellyn expects to return to life as a kitchen hand, but finds that the enigmatic knight has chosen him as his personal servant. As Marshal’s political reputation grows, Lewellyn finds himself in close proximity to courtly life, observing the machinations of King Henry II and those plotting against him. This is an intimate, complex first-person portrait of a respected nobleman through the eyes of a devoted aide. Llewellyn is self-effacing, yet he’s a carefully crafted, multifaceted character with a delightfully shrewd outlook. The book might have benefited from a more thorough edit, as some of the word choices are occasionally cringeworthy: “KERWHANG!!!” is the sound of knights in battle, and the dying King Henry is said to slip “in and out of conscientiousness.” Still, the story makes for compelling reading.
A ripping medieval yarn, despite occasional shortfalls.