Dina L. Sleiman. Chivalrous. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2015. See here to buy the book.
Chivalrous is the second book of Dina Sleiman’s “Valiant Heart” series. The series is set in thirteenth century England.
Chivalrous has some of the same characters as the previous book, Dauntless, such as Allen, Merry, and Timothy Grey. It also makes reference to the Ghosts of Farthingdale Forest, who were prominent in the previous book. See here for my review of Dauntless.
But Chivalrous also introduces new characters, and a new story. There is Gwen, a young noblewoman, whose father wants her to marry a brutish man. Gwen has an independent streak, for she pretends to be a knight and fights in a tournament. There is Gwen’s maid and friend Rosalind, who is dealing with her own guilt. There is Randel, a devout man, who is a potential suitor for Gwen. There is also the villain of the story, a rival to the progressive duke. The villain’s sister is a witch.
Chivalrous was much better than Dauntless, for a variety of reasons. For one, Chivalrous had themes that added an aura of mystery to the story: a prophecy that Allen feels he has to fulfill, and a man whose sister is a witch. Second, there was more theological discussion in Chivalrous, and the discussion actually went somewhere. In Dauntless, Merry and Timothy Grey disagreed about Romans 13 and whether that means they should obey the brutal King John. But the discussion did not get too deeply into the details and implications of Romans 13, nor did the two of them arrive at an interpretation of Romans 13 that would justify their opposition to King John. Romans 13 was just left hanging! By contrast, the theological discussions in Chivalrous were meatier and had more resolution.
An endearing quality of Chivalrous is that the protagonists are good people, even if they do not necessarily belong with each other, in terms of marriage. Gwen is drawn to Allen, but Randel is still a good person. Allen feels that he has to marry a duchess to fulfill a prophecy about a low-born person marrying a duchess and saving the nation. The duchess is a good person, but she is grieving the death of her husband and is not ready to marry again. The characters in Chivalrous are more rounded and likable than the ones in Dauntless.
An excellent scene in the book is one in which Gwen, Allen, and Randel are all three discussing Scripture and life. Gwen’s father is domineering, but Randel says that he is as hard on himself as he is on others. Unfortunately, this humanizing view of Gwen’s father is not developed further in the book.
In Chivalrous, there are people who have egalitarian perspectives on Scripture and on life, when it comes to gender, and one may wonder how realistic that was, historically-speaking. Perhaps portraying characters in this time as egalitarian would be anachronistic, and yet there may have been raw material that would have allowed some people to have egalitarian perspectives, at least on some level. The Bible does have strong female characters who assume positions of prominence, such as Deborah the judge, and readers of the Bible even then would have been aware of that. A good question would be how Deborah was portrayed, in medieval Judaism and Christianity. Moreover, Dina Sleiman in her historical appendix notes that there were women who rose to positions of prominence in medieval England.
Chivalrous was a pleasure to read.