A trilogy, that common animal in Fiction, can be a mixed
bag. The first book can be wonderful, whilst others fail to please, or vice
versa. Such was the case for me with Chivalrous. I did genuinely like
Dauntless, the first book and the series- and that is high praise from me, who
sets my standards for Medieval Fiction very high indeed.
In such cases, it’s best to start with the positive.
Chivalrous was a tight, well-told story, with some important messages, and
delivered its main religious theme about trusting God in difficult and
seemingly impossible circumstances well, without being too preachy. Readers of
the first book might also enjoy seeing Allen of Ellsworth, an important
character from the first book, come into his own. There is also plenty of action,
adventure and intrigue to keep young adult readers enthralled- as well as
plenty of romance.
However, for me there some major deficiencies. One thing was
that I never really warmed to the female protagonist, Gwendolyn. Like Merry
from the first book she adopts a traditionally male role, that of a wannabe
knight- but unlike Merry, her wish to do this seems to result more from
rebellious obstinacy, and a refusal to conform to social norms than anything
else, and some crazy idea that by acting like a boy, and doing things she knew
her father disapproved of she could somehow win his approval.
In the early part of the book, she just seemed like a brat
with a chip on her shoulder because she was not allowed to play with swords and
was expected to stay in her family’s castle, and do ‘boring’ things she did not
want to do. Even her basis for rejecting religion (namely that it supported and
endorsed the repression and subjection of women and the lower classes) seemed
contrived, clichéd and hopelessly anachronistic.
Okay, so the idea of a medieval woman fighting is not so
implausible. Yet the notion of a teenage girl with no direct military
experience being able to best trained soldiers, or even kill fully armoured
knights on the battlefield when not even wearing a helmet (essential for
preventing serious head injuries, or death) and escape unscathed is a bit much.
Even for men, failure to use the proper armour or equipment in battle proved
fatal, so how could she manage without it? Is this really a credible and constructive
example of female empowerment?
Again, I had no problem with the issue of domestic abuse in
this story. These things do happen and it’s necessary to explore them at times.
However, I do object to the idea that Gwen’s situation- that of having a father
who abuses her mother, and even his children, was common in medieval times, and
such actions were generally considered acceptable. Nor do I accept the claim
that Gwen’s father’s attitude towards women and their roles were normal for the
One example would be his belief that women should not ride
horses because it could damage their genitals- which seemed to me patent
nonsense historically- there are plenty of medieval illustrations that show
women riding and I have never heard of anyone at the time raising such an
No doubt fans will
take issue with me remarking on historical accuracy in this regard, but there
were cases in Medieval Britain of women taking abusive spouses to court, or
'naming and shaming' them in front of the neighbourhood. Too put it simply,
women, even in the 'bad old Medieval' days were not entirely without redress to
law and rights. So why do we have to go along with the 'repressed chattels'
stereotype as typical of the period- and strong, valued, women in loving
relationships as the exception?
I also had issue with how prevalent forced marriage was in
this story. It is something else I have a problem with in fiction- mostly
because the church actually banned it in the eleventh century, and that it was
actually quite hard to get past this ban because of how the law worked. Despite
this, many authors seem to ignore or discount the ban, and make out that it was
the norm-even though the evidence shows many noblewomen chose their own
husbands. I mean, why? I understand drama makes for an interesting story- but
does every arranged marriage have to be unhappy and everyone miserable and
abused to make a good story?
Even the notion of North Britannia being a ‘progressive’
state got to me, because of the way this was treated. Basically, it’s supposed
to be some paragon of medieval chivalric ideals, and Christian virtues in the
midst of the universally corrupt society around it. I can accept that this is
meant to be ‘dystopian’ fiction- but it’s almost too dystopian.
The characters constantly harping on about how ‘progressive’
they were, whilst pointing the accusing finger at anyone who did not share
their ideals smacks too much of modern liberalism, not to mention that they
actually come across as quite condescending, something along the lines of
"Oh, thank goodness we're so enlightened, and so much better than those
stupid, backwards, repressive English. We're so wonderful and smart, they
copied the Magna Carta from our ideas!"
An idea supported by the fact that the villain was opposed
to this ‘progress’ and wanted a return to ‘traditional feudalism’ which under
which were rejected such notions as rule
of Law, rule by council, democracy and equality. The problem this
representation in inaccurate- and such notions were not alien and repugnant to
The notion of rule of law existed in English society before
the Magna Carta, most Medieval Kings had councils, and it was a nobleman who
established the British parliament including the House of Commons, in the same
century as this book is set.
More generally, I was concerned with the attitude towards
authority that was held by some of the characters. The most progressive North
Britannians seem to have little time for the idea that fathers should be able
to ‘rule their household’ and have a legal right to authority over their wives
and underage children. Yet this concept is supported in scripture- although not
in the way that Gwen’s father uses it, but the characters in question seem to
consider the notion itself to be wrong and unjust.
Allen and his fellows seemed to think that if the political
authorities, in this case the Council that he was meant to be leading,
supported something which that regarded as tyrannical, unfair or unjust, they
should ‘follow their own heart’, and the alleged leading of the Holy Spirit-
instead of being ‘ruled by men’. At one point in what could really be seen as
little more than a fit of teenage pique, he condemns said council as ‘tyrannical’-
because it would not let him run off and rescue a damsel in
distress, instead of facing his responsibilities and running the Dukedom.
The New Testament contains a number of passages which
expressly state we should obey those in authority, for God puts them in that
place, and even be subject to Kings and rulers. Only if they require us to do
something which is expressly against Christian teaching is there any precedent
for refusal to obey. Not just because we don’t like or think it’s right. Not
just because they will not let us do what we want.
Now, I do not in any way condone the abuse of this power
that Gwen’s father represents- but nor do I believe we should pick and choose
which parts of the Bible we want to believe, and reject that which does not fit
in with our ideas. The idea that you can reject anything in mainstream
religious teaching, or that any authority figure tells you that conflicts with
your innate idea of ‘doing what is right’, as the characters often seem to do,
is one that is worrying. Especially since
the characters in question are basically a bunch of green teenagers, with no
experience of rule, and yet think they know better than seasoned politicians,
parents, religious leaders etc. Not very positive role models for teenagers today
who might already have a problem with authority.
I almost think Rebellious could have been a fitting title
for this novel, which would really have worked better as the original concept
of historical fantasy rather than historical fiction. I would consider reading
the next title in this series, and I’m not meaning to imply the author is
deliberately misrepresenting anything, but just to proceed with caution.
I received an e-galley of this book, from the publisher via
Netgalley for review. No other remuneration was given and all opinions
expressed are my own.