I love love love Elizabeth Chadwick's historical fiction novels! I have read a number of them already and each novel brings history alive. I am so glad I stumbled across her books in a shop unexpectedly one day and have now built up a great amount of them on my bookshelf, some read and some waiting patiently in line. I love the covers of her books aswell, they just add to the whole feeling of the books. I would highly recommend Chadwick's books to other historical fiction lovers, who love tales of history, romance, war etc. Go and get some of these books now!
So here's my review of 'The Leopard Unleashed':
4/5 stars - a great, passionate, gripping read!
This concluding book in Elizabeth Chadwick’s Ravenstow trilogy doesn’t disappoint. It is filled with action, suspense, love, sex, loyalty and betrayal. The author brings the past to life, making the setting, the characters become as real as the paperback in my hands. You can smell the sweat and blood in the battle scene’s, smell the fresh scent of bread wafting from the castle kitchens, see the lush green blades of grass in the meadows and hear the neighing of the horses in the stables; her narrative simply becomes alive, becomes reality, such is the power of her fiction.
I love her historical fiction books; they’re a way of escaping into the past, delving into the hidden lives of people long gone, (I know that some are fictional but seem so real!) and visiting the towns and countryside’s of history. They’re great reads and I definitely loved the Ravenstow trilogy, maybe because it deals a lot with Wales and Chadwick pops a few Welsh words into her narrative here and there, that makes me smile (me being a fluent welsh speaker and all!). I do think I enjoyed the first book The Wild Hunt better than the others; I just loved the relationship that developed between Guyon and Judith but they all are great reads.
The book begins in Antioch with the mercenary character Renard Fitzguyon on crusade. One night he meets the dangerous, sensual half-welsh dancing girl, and their passionate, thunderous relationships escalates into Olwen desperately deceiving Renard into taking her back with him when he is recalled home due to his fathers illness. Renard betrothed from childhood to Eleanor must deal not only with his mistress and his wife but also with his rival, Ranulph the Earl of Chester who is determined to conquer the Ravenstow lands. I loved the depiction of Ranulph, one of the historical characters of the books, he was portrayed as a right old meany who trampled anything that got in his way, but he is sadly brought to his knees by the scheming of certain women.
Despite her situation in life, I disliked the character of Olwen from the beginning. Her scheming constantly threatens the happiness of others; her desires and dreams of power threaten the marriage of Elene and Renard, and further heightens the rivalry between Renard and his rival, Ranulph. I barely sympathised with her because of her forceful personality, but it is easy to see how she was trying to better her position but sadly it was by using others causing pain in the process.
On the other hand, Elene was an easy character to sympathise with. Eager to please her betrothed, she worries that her marriage will simply be one of convenience. She constantly surprises her new husband with her passionate and confident business ventures, and their love slowly grows. Her character grew as the story progressed; as her love and admiration grew so did her confidence as an individual, as a wife and eventually as a mother.
I’m not into chick lit and romance novels but I do appreciate a bit of romance in a historical fiction novel. Maybe it just adds that extra bit of connection between the characters, creating solid relationships and emphasising the depth and humanity of the characters themselves. And it just makes the story that bit more interesting! C’mon you can’t say no to a good romance right? And this is a good romance story! But of course I do love the historical part of the story as well and one of my favourite times in history is the Middle Ages so reading medieval set books such as these are interesting and entertaining.
Chadwick has a way of making her masculine protagonists loveable (this might not be the right word to describe what I mean!). Take Renard in this book for example; he is the epitome of loyalty (well there is the question of having a mistress but that was the norm then right?!), he is loving and caring and is willing to fight to the death to protect his family. I thought he was a strong character within the book both physically and mentally; he is strong enough to protect his lands from his enemy and strong enough mentally to conquer his destructive feelings for Olwen and therefore creating a lasting relationship with his wife.
I really enjoyed this book; it was an exciting, fun, nail biting read, filled with great characters, realistic landscapes (able to view in your head while reading the description), historical facts (and fiction), scenes of sorrow and joy. Chadwick writes such gripping fiction that I will return to her books when I want a good read and a trip back in time. A good historical fiction book is always a good replacement for a time machine (but having one would be amaaazing!).