By Rosanne E. Lortz
Publisher: Anno Domini, January 1, 2009
This novel details the events of one knight, Sir John Potenhale, serving under the Black Prince, Edward, son of Edward III, during his campaigns in France in the mid-14th century.
The story begins with Sir John Potenhale seeking out the widow of another knight. He comes to deliver something of value to the knight’s widow when she asks him to tell her how she met her husband and to start his story at the point when he was knighted. Potenhale then begins his tale when he was serving as a squire to Sir John Chandos who was a knight in service to King Edward and his son. Potenhale is fortunate enough to witness Prince Edward’s knighting and dreams of the day when he too will become a knight.
After the battle of Crecy, Edward knights Potenhale and takes him into his service and household. Potenhale meets Margery, a lady-in-waiting to the prince’s cousin, Joan of Kent, and falls in love with her. However, the Black Plague strikes and Potenhale is wracked with guilt as to whether he should remain a knight or save his soul and take monastic vows. The book details his inner struggle with his knighthood, his growing prowess and adventures as a knight, and his love of Margery.
The book was exciting and enjoyable. A lot of the novel detailed battles at Calais, Crecy, at sea and military marches across France. There is the small side bar of Potenhale pursuing Margery but the book does not really focus on their love story, it is more a retelling of his experiences as a knight and of his relationship with the widow’s husband, Sir Geoffroi. Potenhale meets him after a battle where Geoffroi is taken as Potenhale’s prisoner. Geoffroi remains in the custody of the English for a year until a ransom can be raised to free him. Potenhale respects the French knight greatly and it is in him that he seeks advice about whether he should remain a knight or take holy orders.
The descritpions of battles were not tedious and drawn out at all and added colour to the story. I found Potenhale to be an interesting character and I liked the way the story was told from his memories in the first person. I enjoyed watching him grow as a knight and I liked the twist of the side story about his love for Margery and the difficulties that surround their union. Potenhale’s relationship to the Black Prince and the backdrop of Plagues stricken England, flagellants, notions of redemption and knightly honour also make the book a good read.
There is but one small complaint – there is a line near the end of the book where the author makes a reference to tennis and I found it a very odd analogy for a medieval historical novel. I looked up the history of tennis and while it technically existed in the 12th century, it existed as a handball sport and was not that well known. The reference made in the novel is very modern in tone and I found it jarringly out of place. I doesn’t fit at all and should be removed.
All in all, the book was great and I recommend it for a light summer read. It is battle heavy, and plot heavy but not boring in the least and I really enjoyed it.