Book review

The Gauntlet by Ronald Welch (1951)

Twentieth century Peter Staunton makes a fair stab at being fourteenth century Peter de Blois when he is suddenly transported back in time to the castle Carreg Cennen. These are dangerous times in the Welsh Marches as the Welsh still fight against their Norman overlords. Peter has just a few weeks to learn the basics of swordsmanship before Carreg Cennen is besieged by the Welsh and the stage is set for a bloody battle, in which Peter has an important part to play.

This is an absorbing book, especially if you enjoy history because the emphasis is much more on what life was like in the castle than the mechanics of time travelling. Peter arrives in the castle as a ready-made character - he is mistaken for the son of the lord, Roger de Blois. Peter de Blois has, it seems, been away for four years staying in another castle in a remote part of England and so is not well-known to his parents at first. He takes his place as the son of the lord and his education commences.

The central part of the book is divided into chapters concerning different aspects of life in the fourteenth century. Together with Peter we are taught table manners for a medieval dinner, basics of the longbow, falconry, tournaments and heraldry, to mention a few. I was really interested in the falconry. I've never before stopped to wonder what was the prey when hunting with birds. Now I know that you can catch a rabbit with a goshawk, and a heron in flight with a pair of peregrine falcons.

After a few weeks, Peter de Blois has settled into life at Carreg Cennen when they are besieged by a Welsh force some thousand strong. The Welsh produce trebuchets and mangonels to pound the castle into submission and things look bad for the defenders until Peter finds there is something he can do to help. I think you will really enjoy the resolution of the battle.

As to the matter of time travel - did it all really happen or was it just a dream? See what you think about that tiny matter of proof. (And I'm not even asking what happened to the real Peter de Blois).

Uncomplicated and vivid, though perhaps slightly awkward in places where Peter had to ask questions for our benefit. I think sometimes his contemporaries in the fourteenth century must have wondered what he'd been doing all his life to ask such obvious questions.

What can I read next?

If you like the way Ronald Welch brings history to life, he has written plenty of others. Have a look at:

  • Bowman of Crecy
  • Sun of York

If you enjoy time travel stories, you might enjoy this one by Philipa Pearce:

If you just enjoy adventure, you might like to look at this one by Ian Serraillier:

Or this one by Martin Booth:

Time travel in a different sense: this one by Nina Bawden is set in the future:

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