Defender of the Realm; Defender of the North
In Holst’s enthusiastic and winning two-volume tale, likable, unassuming cobbler James Hoade falls in love, stumbles into warfare, gets knighted by the vigorous young man who will one day soon be King Henry II of England, and finds himself lord of Loxley Castle. James and his wife Elena seek only peace and quiet (and Holst describes peace and quiet with an infectious relish), but they’re in the minority in a bloodthirsty England full of powerful barons intent on overthrowing the king and none too happy about James’ commoner origins either. Holst’s narrative voice is cumbersome at times (his books would have profited immensely from a stronger final edit than they got), but he’s a natural storyteller, and his plots carry the reader along through two volumes and raise pointed hopes for more. Certainly the material is there: the lord and lady of Loxley Castle have a spirited (and slightly spoiled) young son named Robin, you see. Highly recommended.