Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!- Book Review
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! is the Newbery Medal winner for 2008.
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Publisher: Candlewick Press
One thing strikes me in this medieval historical fiction of individual monologues and that is the characters do not speak of their poverty with any resentment. Like many children they are cheerful and show moments of daring acts. Each character attribute is written in a matter-of-fact-that-is-just-the-way-it-is manner. Kids are just trying to figure out what their position is within the Lord's Manor.
Author Laura Schlitz has given distinct voices to twenty-three individual characters. Schlitz shows this thirteenth century medieval village through various dialogues relating to their lot in life. She explains in sidebars about medieval terminology and traditions which adds additional insight to the era.
"The boys in Shamble Lane laughed. They won't tell on me." The part of town where butchers, tanners, and fishmongers sold their wares was often called the Shambles or Shamble Lane. Originally shamble meant a slaughterhouse.
With well researched details each character relates to other characters. For instance when Mogg, the Villein's (a peasant who wasn't free) daughter tells of her father beating her brother Jack until he had brain damage. "He beat Jack, and the lad is a half-wit" the reader gets to hear Jack's recount on his father's treatment. "Father used to say I was good for nothing else, but Father died, and we don't miss him." Jack becomes friends with Otho, the Miller's son who everyone hates. Jack comforts Otho one day when he finds him beaten and bloody.
Simon, the Knight's son describes how his grandfather fought with Richard the Lion-Heart to save the Holy City (Jerusalem) There were several campaigns fought during the Crusades between 1095 and 1272. "My father came back home a year ago, half-starved, horseless, on one leg." War was expensive back then as well and many if not most Knights came home to sell some of their land to pay for weapons, armor and horses. This left most of them and their families broke.
The added background historical facts that Schlitz places through out the book give realism to all the fictional characters. The story is not without humor. Someone in the village throws a clod of dung at Isobel, the Lord's daughter. It stains her silk dress horribly. Some common remedies like chicken feathers, water, urine, and ox gall were used during this time. As you might guess they were no match for dung stain. Did she find out who did it? You have to read on to find out the unlikely dung thrower.
Good Masters is a historical fiction novel for young adults but it is the kind of book that adults want to read too.
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