The privileged daughter of one of the most powerful men in England, Mahelt Marshal’s life changes dramatically when her father is suspected by King John. Her brothers become hostages and Mahelt is married to Hugh Bigod, heir to the earldom of Norfolk. Adapting to her new life is hard, but Mahelt comes to love Hugh deeply; however, defying her father in law brings disgrace and heartbreak. When King John sets out to subdue the Bigods, Mahelt faces her worst fears alone, knowing neither she, nor her marriage are likely to survive the outcome. A story of huge emotional power set against the road to Magna Carta and the fight to bring a tyrant king to heel.Ms. Chadwick's reputation precedes her, but her actual writing exceeds her reputation by a mile. I was really taken by the ease with which Elizabeth writes about history.There wasn't a dull moment in this book, which is sometimes a difficult feat for even the most experienced historical fiction writers out there. Some parts of history are dull but necessary after all. I sped through To Defy a King though. If I didn't have to get up at 4:30 am every day (yes. that's when my son gets up), I would no doubt stay up all night just to read a little more and then some, of this story.
And what a story it is too. King John of England was one cruel, tyrannical S.O.B. I thought Henry VIII was bad but he at least accomplished things for England. John did no such thing but rather worked his hardest to maximize the number of people who'd hate him and led his country to near ruination. I read Penman's here Be Dragons that showed this part of English history from the side of the Welsh people. Ms. Chadwick gave me an opportunity to learn more about that time from another perspective, the one of the English barons and English people who suffered probably the most because of King John's blind ambition to be the best ruler England had ever had (needless to say, he turned out to be one of the worst).
Of course, the best point of To Defy a King is Mahelt ('of course' being in my opinion). My appreciation of her grew with every page and I started off not liking this girl at all. But yet again, thanks to Chadwick's talents, Mahelt grew into not just some heroic, fiery, out of this world, perfect female (unfortunately, some authors tend to go that way) but a strong woman with flaws, with feelings that were not always pretty, a woman who made mistakes, who felt hopeless but who in the end knew who she was, remained true to herself and spoke her mind whether asked or not. Mahelt was human and many women today can easily identify with her (I did) and that's what makes such an important and close to our hearts character, even if historically she was a minor one.
Really, whether you like historical fiction or are not sure, you are a hardcore fan or a newbie, you should definitely find a permanent spot on your bookshelf for To Defy a King. I simply cannot see how you could be disappointed after reading it. You'll most likely want to rush to the store or a library to get all the rest of Ms. Chadwick's books (I most certainly do!).
Special thanks to Sourcebooks, Inc. for sending me a copy of To Defy a King for a review.