Customer Reviews: Knight's Fee
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on March 11, 2000
Knight's Fee is one of the four or five books I've read in my life which alway make me cry. Though written for children, it's completely unpatronising, always crediting the reader with intelligence and imagination, and is beautifully written. It tells the story of Randal, a half-Saxon half-Breton lad in Norman England, an orphan left to fend for himself as a dog-boy in Arundel castle, and details his gradual rise to knighthood and freedom, at a terrible price. I have only ever seen this book in hardback, in an Oxford Childrens Library edition, never in paperback, which is a great pity, as it is a vastly underrated book by this author, far better I think than her more well-known stories of Roman Britain, and deserves to be much more widely read.
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on May 4, 2011
I only discovered Rosemary Sutcliff recently, but by the time I'd finished the second book, I was on a quest to find everything I could, and delighted to learn that she wrote more than 50 books. Knight's Fee is the eighth and my favorite to date. (Yes, even more than Eagle of the Ninth, which is waaaayyyy better than the recent movie.) Her settings are vivid, her characters superbly drawn, and her writing exquisite. Sutcliff tells a better story in 250 pages than most authors manage in twice the page count.

Knight's Fee is set in southern England in the 1090s and early 1100s, as the kingdom is settling, still uneasily at points, into Norman rule. The real events and people of the time are skillfully woven throughout the fictional aspects of story. The main character is the orphan son of a minor Saxon lady and a Breton man-at-arms who is left to fend for himself as a dog-boy at the castle where his father had served. At age 10, he is taken into the household of a neighboring Norman knight to be a companion and squire to his grandson and sole surviving descendant. The reader watches him grow up and become entwined into the lives and lot of his foster brother and father. Ultimately, he becomes a knight, although at a terrible price. The ending is powerful enough, and so bittersweet, that it left me with a lump in my throat and a reluctance to pick up another book because it will be a disappointment after this one.
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on September 10, 2010
I think that this, along with The Lantern Bearers, is one of the best books for this age group ever written, and therefore one of the best ever written. The historical context is amazing, but the characters, their relationships, and what happens to and in them is what is wonderful. This book is often rightly suggested as a good one to read when trying to deal with death (along with Charlotte's Web). Sutcliffe has a bone-deep integrity and a clear yet merciful look at reality and suffering. I celebrate this book and am very grateful for it.
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on May 18, 2014
Rosemary Sutcliff is one of those authors whose work is spell binding. Cannot put the book down until it is finished. Then I have a end of story kind of depression. I will buy her work no matter the subject. She is that good.
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on September 14, 2014
I love this descriptive story of nature, the sounds, smells, textures that are embedded in this story of great friendship between foster brothers. The depth of feelings aroused in this book transcends time, how memories are awakened with the sound of a song, flight of a bird, smell of a apple orchard. Heart rending sadness and endearing joy in the celebration of life is what this book embodies.
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on December 6, 2012
I read everything I can written by Rosemary Sutcliff. A wonderful writer with the ability to draw the reader right in to the story. When you have done reading, you feel as though you had been right there and witnessed everything.
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on January 9, 2013
Always feels a bit odd, reviewing a book written before I was born. This book was another of my finds via 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up. [NB: I continue to assume that I am not yet grown up, let alone old, despite evidence suggesting otherwise]. I find that I have read many of the more recent books suggested there, at least ones of the sort that interest me, because I have been working at the library for over ten years, and tend to read books as they come in to the library. Many others I read in my childhood. But the local library was small when I was a kid, and options were limited. Knight's Fee is another of those that I never saw when I was young.

Knight's Fee is set a scant generation after the Norman Conquest of England (1066, for any of you who haven't reached that point in your history classes yet). Randal, the protagonist, is the orphaned child of a Breton soldier and Saxon (i.e local) woman. He has no family nor is he of anything like noble blood. But by a series of chances, at age 10 he is taken from his job as dog boy and becomes the companion of Bevis d'Aguillon, Norman heir of a small English manor.

Randal's rise from lowest of the low to varlet (I think I would have said "page") and then Squire would be unbelievable, except that Sutcliff somehow makes it both inevitable and yet clearly a matter of great chance, a bit of luck the boy never forgets. Nor does Sufcliff hold back on the foreshadowing. From his first arrival at the holding of Dean (the d'Aguillon home), his sense of coming home is coupled with a sense of inevitable loss. We know this isn't going to end well for everyone.

Nor is Randal very old before a chance over-hearing leads him to make an enemy whose prediction--that he "one day will weep blood for this"--is kept close to the reader's mind as events unfold. Randal grows and becomes a squire; Bevis becomes a knight, as Randal, being poor and landless, cannot.

The conclusion is no surprise, but it is not disappointing. How Randal rises to meet each challenge, how he faces loss and gain, is really what makes the book. He could continue to always be a kennel-slave who happened to get away from it. But instead he truly becomes the knight and the lord when it is thrust upon him.

The style of the book is, as expected from something written more than 50 years ago, a bit dated. It won't read to a modern kid like they are used to (though I have trouble putting my finger on the difference--something of tone and style), and you don't end up as far inside Randal's head as we are accustomed to do with characters today. But for all that, the story is very satisfying, and presents a period of history, its people and politics, in a well-researched manner without ever seeming to be anything but a good story. Writing and editing are top-notch, and vocabulary does not talk down to the young reader.
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on July 12, 2010
I love Sutcliff, and I get all of her I can. This one definitely wasn't the best I've ever read. It was mostly a long, long tale with the real plot thrown in in pieces. It was a feud, and it ended a bit sour for our hero, so that part wasn't even encouraging. Her fine characters and delicate descriptions are as good as ever...but the plot could have used a little more work.
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on October 8, 2014
A great children's writer of historical fiction--enjoyable for adults as well.
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on December 1, 2015
Rosemary Sutcliff is a master storyteller.
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