A Place Beyond Courage
Chadwick takes the reader back to the turmoil of 12th-century England in this novel. John FitzGilbert inherited his position as King Henry I’s marshal and, as such, oversaw the provisioning of Henry’s household and guard, everything from horses to foodstuffs to prostitutes. From this relatively minor position, however, he was able to attain castles, land, and wealth through two advantageous marriages and by shrewdly assessing the prevailing political winds.
As an historical fiction hero, John isn’t very sympathetic: he’s coldly calculating and very much aloof to most. But in Chadwick’s skillful narrative, he becomes someone the reader admires. When he annuls his marriage to the mother of his two sons (the timid, ineffectual Aline) in order to marry a wealthier and more powerful woman, Sybilla, who matches his determined personality, fierce intelligence, and passion, the reader practically cheers. It is also when he marries the much younger Sybilla that he appears more approachable and human and not simply an incredibly courageous and shrewd fighter in this time of civil war and changing allegiances.
The author has brought to life a little-known minor nobleman in a time so remote from our own. She makes England of the 12th century vivid and frightening and filled with the same emotions and problems we grapple with today: greed, political uncertainty, immense courage, passion and love. Highly recommended.