Sir Stephen Fitzhugh has been given the task of finding the Holy Grail for the Earl of Essex. The Earl is desperate to acquire the Grail in his declining years and has reason to believe that it has been hidden at Glastonbury Abbey. Stephen doubts its existence but has been promised Dunmow, the land he remembers as the only place where he was happy, as a reward if he succeeds.
Aislinn of Amberlea is the niece of the late abbot. Widowed at fifteen after a short marriage, she has lived nearly ten years in a house belonging to the abbey. She is involved in matters of its day-to-day operation even though Prior Thaddeus, who heads the abbey, believes that women have limited intellect and ability.
At present King Henry’s chamberlain is in charge of rebuilding the abbey which was destroyed by fire. Aislinn fears the fire has ended the abbey’s stature as a pilgrimage destination in spite of its saints’ relics and may be closed. Furthermore, Glastonbury has recently come under the authority of another abbey which has weakened its position.
When Prior Thaddeus learns of Stephen’s mission, he directs him to Aislinn who has some of her uncle’s papers. Hard experience has eroded Stephen’s religious faith, and he does not reveal his true mission to her. Instead he tells her he’s there to help clear up the complicated bureaucratic arrangement between the abbeys.
As Aislinn assists him, she learns the truth. If the Grail is at Glastonbury, that will ensure the abbey’s future. Even as they seek the Grail for competing purposes, their mutual attraction grows.
Juliana Garnett is an accomplished author of medieval romances. I have enjoyed her previous books; The Quest is on my keeper shelf. Her stories have an authentic flavor of the period, and her vivid characters behave in accord with their times.
The characters in The Knight are well-developed and dynamic. Stephen and Aislinn make an excellent hero and heroine; their conflict is as believable as the increasing attachment between them. Moreover, there are some secondary characters who act in a manner genuine to the story’s late 12th century setting.
Stephen is a particularly intriguing character. He believes that experience has eroded his knightly virtues, but it’s clear to Aislinn - as well as to the reader - that a little tarnish doesn’t prevent him from being a knight in shining armor at heart. His strong desire to obtain Dunmow is pivotal in his character motivation, and the reasons behind it are gradually revealed through the story.
It’s unfortunate the plot is not as well-crafted as the characters. The search for the Grail tends to overwhelm the romance in places, and the action occasionally drags. Stephen and Aislinn do a lot of pouring through old documents, walking around checking out possible hiding places, and talking to cryptic sources who can’t speak in plain sentences. It becomes repetitive after a while, and I welcomed the appearance of some nasty outlaws just to liven things up.
If The Knight had passed the put-down-pick-up test, this is a book I would be recommending with enthusiasm because the hero and heroine are among Ms. Garnett’s best and there’s a strong sense of the period. An unusual aspect is the portrayal of the power of and the power struggle within the Christian church at a time when the old religion was not yet completely eradicated. Readers who are fans of the medieval sub-genre may find a lot to like in The Knight.