Writing the book in the winter of 2017 through early spring 2018 was a magical and sometimes startling experience, where it felt like the characters and their relationships were channeled to me straight from the 13th century. I believe Montargis is my best novel, though it’s one that has not garnered many reviews, so it has been hard to tell how it resonated with readers.
Up until now. Yet a recent in-depth review on Amazon captures the heart and soul of the book beautifully:
“It was snowing, light flakes tumbling down. The night was quiet, the moon up overhead, and it seemed strange and incredible that terrible things could happen in the world.”
-Will, in “A Knight’s Tale: Montargis”
Gabriella West has written another powerful, thoughtful, and at times heart-breaking novel that delivers a deeply moving, beautiful portrait of love between two young men. The story provides moments to cherish that are buoyant, quiet, poetic, full of grace, and some that are erotic, yet others that are raw and disturbing. A Knight’s Tale: Montargis is a compelling, tightly rendered sequel that continues the story of Will Talbot, a 13th century English knight loyal to the Montfort family, and his lover Stephen, a ward of the Montfort’s who was saved as a boy from the slaughter of his family. Having escaped the rout of the Second Barron’s War and the death of Earl Simon and his eldest son, Will, Stephen and the surviving members of the Montfort household escape to France.
But Will and Stephen quickly find out that there is no escaping the political and psychological damage of the war, nor of the machinations of the Earl’s second son, also named Simon. In the first book, a romantic triangle formed as Will found himself attracted to both the older, stronger and socially superior Simon and the slightly-built, abused Stephen. West has a keen eye for historical detail and her research into this period, and the real-life Montfort family’s political downfall, provides a convincing backdrop for her insightful, absorbing depictions of behavior, psychology, and the dynamics between these three men and those who care for them.
Will is a bit of a magpie, someone who is susceptible to the charms of certain people even though he has substantial backbone to resist others. Even so, his ongoing attraction to Simon, whose darker and more sociopathic tendencies become clear, is disturbing, especially when Will can no longer deny the harm Simon has inflicted. It’s a rollercoaster ride to try to continue believing in Will as he repeatedly falls under the sway of Simon – and a couple of other people, too – wondering what it will mean for his future with Stephen.
None of this would work as a story, though, if we didn’t feel the bond between Will and Stephen as deeply as we do. The intense intimacy, tender caring, and soul-deep affection between the two young men is conveyed in everyday imagery, from feeding each other honey on finger tips or entwined limbs as they drift off to sleep to secretly clasping hands on a night time stroll, and in the ways the couple find each other again and again as they navigate their own individual inner struggles. Especially in the first third of the book, I found that these displays of love, honest affection and overarching devotion – a devotion unique to Will and Stephen, having nothing to do with the expectations of church or aristocracy or neighbors – was so satisfying that I was hoping it might continue for the entire novel, as a kind of quiet meditation on the quality of lives shared to the fullest. But Simon always lurks somewhere in the background, and we know this isn’t going to happen.
Despite the horror and tragedy that engulfs them, and the sadness they endure, West has given us a couple who discover the courage to reveal themselves to each other, to endure life’s dark side, and still find that they want to hold each other at night. It’s a portrait of tenderness and caring that I find uniquely beautiful.
The dialogue is beautifully written. It’s crisp and clear, terse, tense or tender by turns. Sometime it sparkles, sometimes it ignites, and sometimes it is the gaps – what the characters don’t say – that is most riveting. West has a talent for making the silences between characters apparent but not obvious. She invites the reader to fill in what is not being said, drawing the characters closer to the reader and making them more of a living presence as the story unfolds.
It is also in the dialogues that we find the characters meditating on the nature of desire, on its opportunistic and unconstrained nature, and also on closer, more permanent bonds of affection. West interweaves these reflective passages into the story’s action, so that we come back to them time after time. They remind me of similar dialogues that can be found in the ancient world, and in China, Japan, India and even medieval Europe over the last two millennia. In Montargis, they are occasioned by the old Montfort family messenger, Wilecok, whose grumbling, vaguely sinister presence in the first book takes center stage in Montargis. Hedonistic, direct, funny and wise, one wonders just how literally the author intended for us to understand Wilecok’s name as he becomes a lovable, trusted guide for Will and Stephen.
I am grateful for these exceptional books, which reflect the best of our aspirations concerning affection, love and devotion to one another. (Amazon reviewer RV on 1/10/2020)