Sophie Masson

Bantam Books / 418 pages / 1998

ISBN: 0733801781

Mysterious, historical figures. Court intrigue. Magic, both good and evil. Fantastical characters. Knights and Ladies. And, the creation of a quest that will bring fact together with fiction to form an adventure that just possibly could have happened. Sword and sorcery fans, meet The Knight by the Pool.

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Of course, first you should meet Marie de France, the heroine of the tale. She is in mourning for her late husband and determined to make the dangerous journey to honour his last wishes. There is never a good time for this kind of task, but there could hardly be a worse time than right now. Fortunately, she has her husband’s loyal servant, Llew — fortunate, that is, if he is truly loyal. Unfortunately, she has her loathsome cousin Achard along for the trip as well. Most of the people/creatures Marie meets along the trail will be ally or foe, but how is she to know whom to trust?

To make solving the puzzle of her life more difficult, Marie will meet and fall passionately in love with none other than Sir Richard the Lionheart. Further complications? Richard is betrothed to a princess. Marie and Richard must separate and hope to reunite. And the in-fighting within Richard’s family may threaten the peace of the realm.

And some of the characters around Marie just might be shape-shifters.

Ah! Life in the 12th century is never boring.

Masson constructs a moment in time that never existed (as far as we know), but forms more solidly than most of the historical episodes you learned of in school. The world of The Knight by the Pool seems quite real and quite possible. It is a neat trick to introduce elements of magic into a novel without losing credibility, but Masson manages to make the fanciful appear essential.

At times, the behaviour of the characters can be maddening to those (like, for instance, me) who are not longing for a return of chivalry.

The women’s chief goal seems to be to find the man of their dreams, who will make everything wonderful. The men expect such adulation as simply their due. And no one can ever just come out and say what they mean — etiquette, deception, pride, and all that — makes every statement painfully circumspect. But, those were the times. Marie, at least, takes action instead of waiting around for rescue or swooning.

One of the uniting threads throughout the novel is the fascinating entries from The Bestiary of Guillaume Le Mage, a medieval volume that exists only in Masson’s story, but makes you wish you could find a copy. Even the plot itself was entertaining in its own right — I found myself eager to see the next excerpt. Like The Knight by the Pool, it would be a book worth savouring and saving.