THE SCARLET LION takes up from where THE GREATEST KNIGHT leaves off. Now married to wealthy heiress Isabelle of Leinster, and seasoned by his many accomplishments at court, we see William at the height of his powers, rushing in to save a siege that is going badly wrong, and earning the wry gratitude of King Richard the Lionheart. (Wry because the King was poised to rush in to save the day himself).
Everything is going well until Richard dies suddenly of a festering arrow wound. (If this sounds familiar, it is because some scientists are doing DNA tests as we speak on the dust from Richard’s body to try and determine exactly what he died of.) Richard’s heir is uncertain. There is his brother John, now in his early thirties. And then there is 10-year-old nephew Arthur of Brittany. By devious means, John secures the throne. Arthur is captured and imprisoned…and never seen alive.
John is NOT the greatest knight, or indeed any kind of knight. Chivalry is something that he cynically avoids. A brilliant, highly-intelligent man, John uses his dazzling intelligence in malevolent ways, earning himself the dislike of many of those who serve him. And so, things are dark and very dangerous for those magnates who have to deal with them. Because John never gives anyone an easy out.
This is a gripping novel that is as much about the troubling character of King John as it is about the Marshals and their relatives by marriage the Bigods. Five stars.