When I picked this book up it was on a whim…best whim ever! This is a historical book but I recommend it to anyone running a fantasy RPG campaign. The book connected with me on a lot of different levels and I was deeply impressed with not only the biography of William Marshal but the masterful way that the author provides the context for the story, without miring the reader down with pointless details. As an author, I am going to use this book as a guide for my own future writing of non-fiction.
William Marshal served five kings during the medieval era, including Richard the Lionhearted. He had a role in the Magna Carta and was a behind-the-scenes character throughout that era. No, that isn’t right. He was often at the forefront of many changes of power in England and France, but somehow has remained hidden in history.
The opening of the book reminded me of Flashman, starting with an obscure manuscript surfacing at an auction that led to the telling of his tale. I was hooked in the first three pages! Marshal is the antithesis of Flashman though, a truly honorable man. He is the perfect template for a Paladin in D&D. He moves through history with the ease of Forrest Gump in some respects, having a knack for being at the right place at the right time. The political waters he somehow managed to navigate were deadly and ever changing, yet he managed to do so with honor and a certain dignity that comes through in the book.
In some respects, it reminded me of Katherine Kurtz’s Camber of Culdi series, which has become the metaphorical basis for my own D&D campaign. I consider this series of books some of the best fantasy I have read over the years, and The Greatest Knight reminded me to go back and re-read those books.
I found the book captivating because the author did such a great job of giving you the foundation for events in Marshal’s life. The section on tournaments, for example, really debunks the myth of jousting and is something I could see being incorporated into fantasy RPG’s with ease. This book has forced me to purchase other books on the historical figures mentioned in it, a testimony as to well it is written. In other words, The Greatest Knight is a gateway drug to an addition to non-fiction history.
I give this five out of five stars. It is an outstanding piece of literature that has saved Marshal from the dustbin of history!