Monday, April 25, 2011

A Bloody Field By Shrewsbury - Edith Pargeter

1972; 378 pages.  Genre : Historical Fiction.  New Author? : No.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    It's 1399 AD, and uneasy rests the head that wears the English crown.  King Henry IV has deposed his cousin, Richard II.  Henry's son, Hal, is now the Prince of Wales.  But Hal's only 14 years old, so the king sends a close friend and ally, Harry Percy (aka "Hotspur") to Shrewsbury with Hal, to be his mentor.

    But the Royal Treasury is broke, Richard II dies under suspicious circumstances, the French are hostile, and Wales and Scotland are revolting.  What more could possilby go wrong for the King?

What's To Like...
    Edith Pargeter (who uses the pen-name Ellis Peters when she writes Brother Cadfael stories) is a fine historical fiction author.  All the characters are 3-dimensional and evolving; and none of them is all-white or all-black.  Like a Shakespearean tragedy, our main hero (Hotspur), although noble, has some far-reaching character flaws.

    The main battle only starts on page 332, so until then you have to be entertained by a couple of skirmishes and a lot of history, politics, and personal drama.  The book succeeds at this nicely.  There's even a little bit of romance for the ladies, but it's (seemingly) hopelessly doomed so guys can tolerate it.

Kewlst New Word(s)...
Two of them, just for a change.  Shriving : hearing the confession of, and assigning penance to (someone).  Sikker : certain; safe; secure.

    "Doubts?  Ay, have I, and many and grievous, too!  Do you think there's one of us that is not looking back now in torment of mind, questioning at every move what we did well, and what was ill-done?  Death makes every man turn his head and re-examine his conscience."  (pg. 24)

    As what would she remember him?  She was not dependent upon love and lovers as women are wont to be.  She had married, and sickened of marriage, and chosen of her own will to look towards other satisfactions, this being soiled and spoiled for her, though not, please God, eternally.  You cannot die of disillusion at twenty, not with such a spirit in you.  (pg. 328)

"Every man's death is treading hard on his heels every day of his life. ... Yet it will not overtake until he flags."  (pg. 329)
    As with her Brother Cadfael series, Pargeter/Peters gives you a feel for everyday life in medieval England.  The people are real, their actions are believable, and their surroundings vividly detailed.

    If you aren't a history buff, A Bloody Field By Shrewsbury may not be for you, as Pargeter takes very little literary license with the historical facts.  But if you like knights and kings, and castles and calamities, then you will probably enjoy this book.

    The history recounted here will most likely be new to most American readers.  But Shakespeare found it important enough to write a tetralogy of plays about it : Richard II, Henry IV - Part 1, Henry IV - Part Two, and Henry V.   If it's good enough for the Bard, it's good enough for me.  8 Stars.

No comments: