Another winner from Chadwick!
The Time of Singing retells the story of Roger Bigod, son of Hugh Bigod Earl of Norfolk, who joined the younger Henry in his revolt against his father Henry II. When the revolt fails Hugh loses the Earldom and lands and when he dies there is a bitter dispute over the right to inherit the Earldom between Roger and his step-mother and her two sons. While Roger serves Henry and bides his time to claim his Earldom young Ida de Tosney arrives in court as the King’s ward. Henry is smitten and has other plans for Ida and he makes her his mistress and she eventually bears him a son, William. Unhappy with her position as mistress to the king, Ida casts her hopes on Roger and Henry allows them to marry — although she must leave her son behind.
Henry still withholds the Earldom, but he does restore some of their lands and Ida and Roger build a life and family together and begin rebuild Framlingham Castle to greater heights than it was before. Once Richard I takes the crown at the death of Henry the Earldom is restored to Roger, and the rest of the book recounts their lives as they struggle to keep everything they hold dear as the battle lines are drawn during Richard’s absence on crusade and subsequent kidnapping threatens to bankrupt England.
A very enjoyable surprise for me was the appearance of my personal favorite hero, William Marshal – I did not expect him at all, or to feature so prominently – but it appears Bigod and Marshal were contemporaries and friends. Another big surprise was Ida’s son William – who readers of fiction set during the reigns of John and Henry III will recognize as William Longespée, and I have to admit many of my favorite moments in the book were of William and his attempts at a relationship with his mother, Roger and their children.
While I enjoyed this book very much, this is not an action packed, page turning, sit on the edge of your seat type of book, but one to sit back and savor like a fine red wine or a box of chocolates (or both!!). As always with Chadwick’s books, the way she brings the medieval period to life in such a graceful and effortless way, be it the sights, sounds, smells, food, clothes and battles is just awesome. As quoted on some of her book jackets, the next best thing to time travel. And coming very soon is the sequel, To Defy A King. Don’t miss it.