cover image The Champion

The Champion

Elizabeth Chadwick. St. Martin's Press, $26.95 (512pp) ISBN 978-0-312-19246-4

A rousing sample of English medieval life, replete with violence, lust, royal schemes and religious scandal, Chadwick's latest (after The Conquest) follows the story of Alexander de Montroi, who abandons the monastery for the tournament circuit, where men battle for sport, property and riches--often to the death. Parallel to Alexander's transformation from abused novice to knight extraordinaire is the story of beautiful, innocent Monday de Cerizay, who becomes a ward of the Montroi brothers. Chadwick ably contrasts the bawdy scene on the tourney route with cloistered castle life, where a shrewd wife scheming to keep her marriage intact can be just as calculating as a lord planning an elaborate battle. The costumes, weapons, foods, royal and common customs--including birth control methods of the period--are well realized in this story, which spans 1193 to 1201. Characters realistically brush up against such notable figures as Richard the Lionhearted, King John and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Although all the elements of a historical romance are observed--myriad obstacles fail to keep the hero and heroine from the obligatory happy ending--this is also an unusually imaginative depiction of the sometimes seamy circumstances behind the conventions of the chivalric romance. (Dec.)