Having read and enjoyed Juliana Garnett in the past, I requested this book and looked forward to reading it. This is one author who knows her medieval history, does her homework, and is capable of creating complex characters and interesting plots. A few chapters into The Knight, however, I began to suspect this particular effort was going to fall short of my expectations.
Sir Stephen Fitzhugh, a rugged, jaded, godless knight is sent by the Earl of Essex on a mission he must not fail: find the Holy Grail and bring it to Essex. Though men have been searching for the Grail for a thousand years, Essex is certain he knows where it is, and sends Stephen off to Glastonbury to see what he can find. Failure is not an option, for Stephen is in the service of Essex, a man who holds Dunmow Castle out to Stephen as reward for success, but will see Stephen killed if he fails. Since Stephen wants Dunmow more than anything on earth, he agrees.
At the age of twenty-five, lovely and devout Aislinn of Amberlea has been widowed for ten years. She lives at Glastonbury Abbey and also seeks the Grail. For Aislinn, however, it is to use the Grail as a relic to draw pilgrims, a “tourist attraction” if you will, to put money into the Abbey’s coffers thereby keeping it from certain ruin. Aislinn has a book her late uncle left her with clues to the whereabouts of the Grail, and there are various secondary characters who have sung myths and told legends throughout Aislinn’s life which may or may not lead her to the relic she is so desperate to find.
When Stephen arrives at Glastonbury, he decides Aislinn is too tempting. He must keep his mind on the Grail and his final goal, Dunmow. But through various events, Stephen and Aislinn are tossed together and love does bloom. Aislinn knows lust when she sees it and realizes she wants Stephen as much as he wants her. Their love scenes are both exciting and tender and it becomes clear they are meant for each other even though they have opposing views of god, the church, and life in general.
If I were looking for a word to describe The Knight, I’d have to say it is cerebral. Not much action, lots of thinking, discussing, arguing, pouring over documents, interpreting cryptic old-timers, digging here, digging there, finding naught. Had I read this book a few years ago, I might have found myself deeply submerged in the philosophical and theological discussions that go on between Stephen and Aislinn, but instead, I found myself bored. It was too much, stalled the forward movement of the story, and overwhelmed the romance for much of the book.
It’s too bad there wasn’t more of this type of banter. As Stephen and Aislinn prepare to make love for the first time, he gently teases her over her lack of experience. She replies:
“I was once wed, but my knowledge of the marriage bed ended before I was sixteen. It is my thought that you are far move educated in these matters. But if you like, I can lie here stiffly with my eyes tightly closed and allow you to do as you will. While you are at work, I can plan the morrow’s meals and recount to myself the other tasks that need doing, or perhaps think of the love sonnets sung by the jongleurs and wonder how they can be so wrong. When you fall asleep atop me, I’ll push you to one side and then go wash myself. See? I am indeed well versed in passion.”
Besides the odious Essex, there are others who seek the Grail and when they occasionally clash with Stephen, there is action aplenty. He’s a stalwart warrior, and even if he doesn’t think he’s worth of Aislinn’s love, we know he is. Both Stephen and Aislinn are well-drawn and complete characters who are mired down in a repetitive and wearing plot that had me putting the book down time after time, only to pick it up again so I could write this review. And that’s really a shame considering how well I’ve liked this author in the past.
Eventually, Stephen’s motivations are fully revealed and he and Aislinn do get to achieve their happily-ever-after. It was a long trip; one you may hopefully enjoy, or should I say appreciate, better than I.