Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sir Nigel.” Bildungsroman? Prequel? Fun.

My post last week post reviewed The White Company. Today I’m looking at the subsequent novel, Sir Nigel. Though written about a decade later, the events it relates begin about twenty years prior to those in the White Company. Instead of covering the coming of age and adventures of Alleyne Edricson, we read about the coming of age and adventures of his mentor, Sir Nigel Loring.

As a historical novel it treads much of the same ground, with Doyle discussing church/state relationships, the economics of the Black Death, and providing elaborate and colorful detail concerning clothing, food, and architecture. Perhaps because he was traversing already covered territory, this novel is shorter. It moves much more quickly into the meat of the narrative.

Nigel Loring is a more interesting character than the stock hero Alleyne Edricson. Nigel is a more than a bit Quixotic, raised by his grandmother on a steady diet of knightly romances and chansons de geste. His attitudes are contrasted with those of more pragmatic knights (to varying degrees), with the author staking out no moral position.

The story details Nigel’s relatively impoverished youth, his near disastrous legal disputes with the neighboring Cistercian monastery, and his fateful meetings with his own mentor, Sir Chandos as well as King Edward and the Black Prince. We also get introduced to the archer Samkin Aylward, who accompanies Nigel through many of his adventures. We meet Nigel’s future bride, Mary, who is the instigating motive behind most of Nigel’s chivalrous endeavors during his campaigns in France.

The combat, sieges, shipboard fights, and brutal tourneys are recounted with flair. Doyle doesn’t shrink from the sanguineous, bone-breaking violence. And Nigel isn’t presented as an invincible superhero. He spends long periods convalescing from serious wounds, rather than hopping back into the saddle as if it were “only a flesh wound.”

It is a fun, worthwhile read that expands upon Doyle’s image of the Hundred Years War. It is, I think, a lesser work compared to The White Company. But if you enjoyed that one (and why wouldn’t you?) you’ll probably like Sir Nigel as well.

You might also like my series, Semi-Autos and Sorcery. Go ahead, get your contemporary fantasy/adventure fix.

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