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Unending Petty Warfare in 11th Century France - an Editorial Review of "To Shine With Honor"

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

Book Blurb:

Galien de Coudre, scholarly third son in a family of minor nobility, comes of age in the perilous world of late 11th century France, where powerful noblemen massacre the other and innocents in unending petty warfare over lands and silver, despite the efforts of the Church to control their violence.

Galien, educated for the priesthood, trained at arms and horse by his father and older brothers, all knights, finds his once-certain future as a high Church official compromised by family misfortunes. Through a series of often violent events, he discovers his own destiny as events in France and the distant Holy Land draw inexorably toward the great war of faiths known in history as the First Crusade.

Author Bio:

Joseph Scott Amis retired from a thirty-year professional and business career in 2004. He has since devoted his time to medieval and Crusades studies, and writing of historical fiction. Scott is also a writer and features editor at Real Crusades History. A native Texan, he lives in Dallas.

Editorial Review:

TRIGGER WARNINGS: Violence, Torture, and Rape

To Shine With Honor is, to say the least, a gripping story. A bit problematic at times, to be sure, but almost pardonably so, as the story is incredibly well thought out, and the characters are intriguingly developed. The battles are written as though the writer witnessed them himself, and the speech is nearly identical to that of 11th Century France. The story starts with Galien de Coudre receiving his first sword on the day of his coming-of-age. Galien’s father, Henri de Coudre, wishes for his son to become a man of the church. However, Henri does not intend to send his youngest son into the world with no way to defend himself. While giving Galien the sword, Henri says to him: “Galien, you know I make certain each of my sons has the best sword I can buy at his coming of age and knows how to wield it, become he knight, priest, or diplomat.” With this, Henri reached into his belt purse, took out a heavy silver seal ring, and slid it onto the forefinger of Galien’s right hand. “You’re a man now and fully fit to take your place beside your brothers.”

But soon, tragedy strikes. While Galien’s brothers and father are away battling a far-off enemy, Gabrielle de Coudre (Henri’s wife and mother of all his children) dies of cancer. Henri is critically wounded when Henri and Galien’s brothers return from the battle. He’s lost his right hand and teeters on the brink of death for quite a while. Eventually, when he recovers, he takes up drinking heavily, no longer interested in managing his estate or taking up a sword again. One evening, while Galien and Thierre are at a tavern, Galien worries about his father.

“Father’s drinking a lot more and doesn’t seem to care about the estate at all anymore. Alisende and I are still keeping it going.”

“How well I know. Losing his sword hand at Vézelay two weeks after Mother died took all he had left out of him.”

“Thierré, he’s gotten worse. I fear he hasn’t much time left.”

“You’re letting your thoughts run away with you, like you always have.”

This conversation is soon revealed to be premature, as, after a long battle with himself, Henri manages to get himself in shape again. To account for his missing hand, he commissions a special shield to be made with leather to cradle the stump of his right arm and hold the shield firmly in place. Henri then learns how to use a sword with his left hand, and once again becomes a force to be reckoned with. As for Henri’s sons, Galien’s older brothers, Thierre and Martin de Coudre are both knights destined for a life on the battlefield and in taverns, and earning a comfortable wage doing so. Thierre, however, is regarded in the de Coudre family as a drunkard always on his way to the local ‘whorehouse,’ and it’s from this theme most of the problematic parts of this book spring from. While the constant belittling of women is historically accurate, with the sheer amount of rape and prostitution presented here, I can only hope this book never falls into the hands of a child.

Sodomite, a term mentioned quite frequently, is used to refer to a man who feels sexual feelings toward other men. And this book never lacks sodomites. The first example we see is a monk who attempts to rape Galien during his stay at a monastery. Gruesome details abound as Galien promptly cuts the man’s ears off after crushing the man’s nose with his knees. The second example is significantly less gruesome, as the man simply ogles Galien often. (Which wouldn’t be quite so strange if the man wasn’t Galien’s boss.)

To make up for all the grisly torture scenes, rape descriptions, and sexual assault, Galien and his brothers become steadily closer throughout the book. Thierre gradually sheds his ungodly ways, Martin becomes rich after ransoming his father’s deadliest enemy, and Galien himself eventually settles for a nobleman and knight’s life after marrying. His wife, Lisette, first met Galien after a horrific raid on her village by Henri De Coudre’s greatest enemy Bayard d’Evreux in which she lost her husband. Again, it’s not entirely believable that Lisette would fall in love with Galien, not even an hour after her husband was killed before her very eyes, but no one can truly know what the 11th century was like firsthand. An unmarried woman back then had almost no way to earn her own money (except through prostitution,) and without a husband to protect her, Lisette would be vulnerable to a harsh and unforgiving world.

Throughout the story, as mentioned before, the de Coudre brothers grow closer together through their own personal growth. Thierre, presented at the beginning of the book as a ‘high-and-mighty’ type, far too interested in wine and women to learn how to read or write, decides to learn near his letters at the end of the book, providing a satisfying character arc for him. Toward the end of the story, he also seems to have broken his habit of frequenting the ‘whorehouse’ and has become as close to a man of God as a knight can truly be. Martin stays relatively unchanged in his calm demeanor, a stark contrast to his older brother, who is prone to violence.

And, to put it bluntly, it’s quite a good thing that books like this one exist, without modern constraints placed on them to make people comfortable reading them. To pretend such violent, heinous acts were never committed would be unwise, as we as a society would then be doomed to fall to the same practices. For a young reader, it is strongly recommended to wait until a more mature age to read this book. As an adult reader, however, this book is fast-paced and exciting and gives a rare glimpse into uncensored history. For that, the writer is duly commended and thanked for writing such a thought-provoking tale.


“To Shine With Honor” by Scott Amis receives five stars from The Historical Fiction Company



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