Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Lords of the White Castle, by Elizabeth Chadwick [3]

***/***** (3/5)

Wow. Deep breath. And another.

Possible SPOILERS ahead.

Yup, I admit it: I'm a wimp. Sue me, but I hate sad, melancholy endings and unfortunately LORDS OF THE WHITE CASTLE features just such an ending. I was holding my breath for something terrible to happen in the middle portions; in fact, you could sense an impending doom in some of the imagery and words used to describe the nature of the love between our lead pair. For example, the night of Fulke's vigil to knighthood when he dreams of his birthright home and his heroine Maude in it; then suddenly Maude grows wings and flies away . . . Furthermore, LORDS OF THE WHITE CASTLE consistently describes Maude & Fulke's love as a fire: consuming, immolating.

Cruelly, LORDS OF THE WHITE CASTLE saved its worst until the very, very end in this 609-page magnum opus. It wasn't really a surprise when it hit, because you kept wondering what else there is to tell.

You know of romances about a heroine saving the hero's soul bent on revenge or a quest for something, right? In all the cases before I always sided on the hero's side because it would be more interesting to see the hero and heroine work together to complete the hero's quest for revenge or something else rather than have an uncompromising heroine make her hero choose between her and that other thing. Brutally and heart-breakingly, LORDS OF THE WHITE CASTLE really teaches the consequences of choosing a rivalry and a birthright over love. Never before was I screaming for our hero to simply let go, please just let go....

I thought the book was 109 pages too long, I totally could have done without the last 109 pages. I know I'm a wimp, but without the last 109 pages, this books gets 5 stars, but Chadwick mercilessly plows on to not only the end of the book, but the end of human lives. More than that though, the last 1o9 pages didn't have the impetus and drive as the earlier portions since it appeared to languish quite a bit compared to the beginning.

I laud and respect an author such as Elizabeth Chadwick. I hear Kathleen E. Woodiwiss writes in a similar vein: epic, romantic, melancholy. Laura Kinsale's SHADOWHEART is slightly different but similar in other ways, I didn't necessarily enjoy Kinsale's SHADOWHEART as a whole but at least it had a happy ending.

Despite my respect for Chadwick's writing and engrossing nature, I would only return to her work after a very long respite, if at all. For better or worse, LORDS THE WHITE CASTLE really chronicles the entire life of a person, from beginning to end, from good to bad, from rivalries to disputes, from loves lost to friendships gained, it's a complete biography.

Chadwick's settings are vivid and the historical backdrop meshed masterfully. She invites you to lose yourself in her world and indeed she had me hooked in the beginning. The history, the settings and romance seemed to go hand-in-hand, Chadwick deftly weaved them in a grand, epic fashion. After the 500-page count following the events in Ireland which has Jean safely married to Oonagh however, I thought the book precipitously meanders into various, hazy directions only to arrive at the brutal, inexorable ending.

The Story.

The hardcover's front cover heralds: A deadly rivalry. An ancient family dispute. An impossible love. All three plots are evident and weaved beautifully together in the backdrop of vivid settings and a captivating historical time in England. For all intents and purposes however, all three of these main plots are "resolved" by the 460-page count in this 609-page hardcover. At the 500-page count, you're still satisfied and left wondering what else there is to tell.

Chadwick's 2002 release LORDS OF THE WHITE CASTLE reads almost as a biography of Fulke FitzWarin, the eldest of 6 FitzWarin brothers bred and groomed to regain the family's birthright in an "ancient dispute": Wittington Castle. The title "Lords of the White Castle" specifically refers to the FitzWarin brothers and Whittington Castle. Along with Fulke, and then Maude soon after, you live through the good times and the bad, the highs and lows, the laughs and tears. The book begins early in Fulke's life, when he's young squire of 15, and then tells of certain events, fast forwards 1, 2, 5, 10 years, relays other events, fast forwards again etc.

The deadly rivalry between Fulke and the youngest son of King Henry, Prince John, begins the book with them playing a game of chess. A very prideful Fulke wouldn't allow a dishonest, corrupt bully like Prince John win the chess match and the resulting bout conflagrates a very deadly rivalry, each harboring and cajoling an enmity for the other beyond their control.

Fast forward 4 years to 12 year-old Maude le Vavasour entrance into the novel, a skinny kid with silky silver hair. She's feisty, headstrong and when 19 year-old Fulke first runs into her, he's struck by her will and determination. The prior King Henry has passed on, and all the barons have come to Westminster to swear fealty to the vivacious and crusading King Richard, Prince John's older brother. Fulke earns his spurs and becomes a full-fledged knight after Richard's coronation while Maude's stringent, over-bearing father arranges her betrothal to the kind and just Lord Theobald "Theo" Walter, a man more than thrice Maude's age. Fulke served as squire under Theo and knows Theobald to be a kind, generous man. Fulke serves as witness for his friend at Theo & Maude's betrothal.

Fast forward again 4 years to the wedding, and Chadwick is ruthless here, detailing what a harrowing, terrible experience the bedding ceremony can be for a 16 year-old virgin. Maude has grown into a beautiful woman, luscious and spirited. Even though he's thrice her age, Lord Theobald Walter represents Maude's comfort blanket, her father would have sold Maude to another horrible man if not Theo. Very strenuous, nerve-wracking and horrifying moments here at the bedding ceremony. Fulke arrives the first morning of Theo & Maude's marriage to find the stained bedsheets in the great hall, proving Maude's virginity. He's mesmerized by what the 12 year-old skinny girl has turned into: this absolutely lovely woman. Likewise, even though Maude & Theo has just consummated their marriage the night before, Maude is drawn to Fulke. Fulke respects his kind older friend Theo though and vows to keep his distance.

All during this time, Fulke's father has been trying to petition the King and his high-ranking advisers to return their FitzWarin birthright: Whittington, now in possession by their hated enemies the FitzRogers. After years and years of pleading and petitions and money, Fulke's father finally makes some headway only to see nothing become of it. He earns a writ of the royal crown's intention to return Whittington to the FitzWarins but for 3, 4 painful years, nothing happens since the FitzRogers still claim possession. Tragically, Fulke's father cannot take it anymore and dies after seeing his Whittington Castle one last time. Devastatingly, Fulke's mother follows shortly thereafter.

Circumstances place Prince John on the crown after all of his elder brothers die. When the FitzRogers bribe the now-King John to keep Whittington in FitzRoger hands, John accedes mainly to spite his hated rival Fulke. Fulke and his brothers turn rebel and outlaw and John & Fulke's childhood game of chess manifests into very detrimental and dangerous consequences.

Fast forward a few years again and finally Maude's security blanket, her husband Theobald who she's grown to love very fondly, finally passes away. King John and her father again look to sell her off to the highest bidder and King John has pernicious, lurid plans of his own for the enchanting beauty. After learning of Theo's demise, Fulke snatches Maude from under King John's nose, their rivalry growing even more deadly.

Maude and Fulke finally marry, and they share a heated passion, one Chadwick compares to an immolating fire. Even though both are together as rebels and outlaws, Chadwick impresses on her readers a sense of impending doom. I was constantly waiting for something to bad to happen during the middle portions. Nothing seriously horrible happens though, and Fulke regains his much coveted Whittington Castle as a Welsh prince's vassal instead of King John's.

Stubbornly, the story continues and hammers on fast forwarding to its aching conclusion.

Wow, I feel like I need a long vacation or something.

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