The Southampton Chronicle (Gregory of Bordeaux Trilogy Book 1) by Richard Massey
Summer is nearly upon us and if you’re looking for a fun, fast paced medieval page turner, then keep reading!
The Southampton Chronicle by Richard Massey tells the tale of Gregory of Bordeaux, a wealthy London wine merchant who is selected by Richard Beaufort, Earl of Southampton to write a chronicle. Initially reluctant, Gregory quickly realizes a missed opportunity after the Earl says to him:
“Master Gregory, you can sit here and count your pennies and argue over shit versus shit at court, and you will grow rich in so doing,” he said. “Or you can venture into the realm and write the history of our times. Your name will stand even when we are all but dust and bones” (p.9)
Geoffrey takes up Beaufort’s offer and sets off on a two year odyssey across England. Early in his journey, he takes on a sixteen year old farm boy, Warren of Lichfield, for protection. Warren distinguished himself by unhorsing the Lord of Tutbury, and by demonstrating he had a kind heart and good manners. The two travel through villages and cities getting good gossip and a juicy story for Gregory’s chronicle. From countryside to castle, they fight injustice, expose fraudsters, have dalliances, and try to solve the local inhabitant’s problems. They’re sort a medieval Batman and Robin, with Gregory trying his hardest to teach Warren valuable life lessons, the main one being that the pen is mightier than the sword. Over the course of their travels, Warren’s character goes from a naive country bumpkin to impressive warrior. He becomes much more than a protector or mere companion for the long road ahead. Warren and Gregory develop a sort of brotherly camaraderie, with both men unwavering in their loyalty to one another. Some of the more interesting moments happen between the two, when Gregory wants to teach Warren how to navigate his way through perilous situations, especially when dealing with those who wield power (lords, bishops, earls etc.). Although Gregory, even with all his experience in dealing with such people, doesn’t always heed his own counsel. While he is intelligent, Gregory is also quite proud, and he manages to make some powerful enemies along the way. On several occasions, our intrepid chronicler nearly meets his end, but he is saved by either his quick wit, sheer luck, or Warren.
The Southampton Chronicle reminds me of old fantasy/medieval quests where danger lurks around every corner, but in a way where you know the hero will narrowly come out of it by the skin of his teeth. Some of it is a bit unbelievable, but that doesn’t matter – it’s all in good fun and the book certainly doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s pure fiction; it doesn’t recount the life of any real historical figures. The few medieval characters who do enter the novel, such as Edward I, are mentioned in only passing to set the stage and further the plot. There is zero interaction with them. And even when there are dark moments - and there are some grisly and depressing scenes in this book – it still doesn’t stray far from its overall lighter tone. This, at its heart, is a book about the fun and excitement of going on a medieval adventure, and Massey makes that approach clear from the first few pages.
The only complaint I have is that there are moments where the dialogue verges on the ridiculous. Sentences like this: “In the frame of her veil, he saw a country lass who had grown into a wise woman, a sharp wit yet to be ground on the millstone of compromise” (p.70), or, “Born and bred on the plough, raised in the row, and schooled on reap and sow, these were the weathered warriors of the harvest, the humble hub of the great English wheel.” (P.54) While this book isn’t trying to be War and Peace, at times, the writing can come off a bit cheesy. Massey’s editor could’ve been a little more ruthless with the overblown language and still not lost any of the story’s playfulness. Aside from this one issue, it wasn’t enough to ruin the book for me; I was able to lose myself in the story and really enjoy it. I would be more than happy to go along on another one of Gregory of Bordeaux’s epic adventures. If you’re looking for a fast paced, humorous and fun read, then The Southampton Chronicle is definitely a great book to add to your summer reading list.
About the Author:
A native Texan, Richard Massey lived in New England, the Mid- west, and the Deep South before settling in Northwest Arkansas in 2007. A career reporter with over a decade of experience, he has written everything from fluff features to hardcore crime stories. While he’s been to just about every juke house on the Mississippi Delta, he also appreciates the Rembrandt collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Mr. Massey has a bachelor’s degree in history from Ohio State University, and a master’s degree in journalism from Ole Miss.