Monday, November 8, 2010

Review: The Last Duel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The story of the Last Duel focuses on the last "legalised" duel to be held in medieval France in which one man seeks justice through trial by combat.

The two protagonists are a knight and a squire. First, these are misleading titles. Both are military men of comparable age; both men were - in the few years prior to the duel - of the rank of squire. One man was knighted on the field of battle - the other on the field of justice - therefore at the time of the duel both men were of equal rank. The title of squire or "escuier" was ascribed to a "battle hardened veteran" rather than the romanticised vision of a youth attending to his master. Though squire did serve their superiors, the context, in this case, as with the title of knight, is purely a military one.

Now to the protagonists themselves. There was a long period of friendship between the two, which slowly dissolved as one received preference over the other; and one felt that he was more deserving of preferment than the other. Tensions finally boil over when one man accuses the other of rape and violence against his wife, culminating in the long drawn-out process of having the case examined and pondered before (to the delight of all), the duel to the death is granted.

Jager goes to great lengths to fill in the background information on those involved and to enlighten the reader on the intracies of medieval French politics and law. In bringing the suit forward, the women herself, if her testimony proves false, faces a most grusesome end - to be burnt alive - and her champion, certain death. There is no half measures - at the end of the day, someone will die.

I have been wanting to read this book for some time since it was recommended to me about four years ago. And I highly recommend it myself.

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