Elizabeth Chadwick’s historical fiction novels are always an impressive melding of complicated characters with a strong sense of honor and times of turmoil, and Shadows and Strongholds is no different. Thrones are fought over, as are borders and castles. Loyalty is expected, sometimes rewarded, oftentimes not. And pledging it must have been the original form of gambling — especially when your life and the lives of your families and tenants are the price if yours isn’t the winning side. And no, “families” isn’t an error. Not when memories are long, and triumph’s reach longer…We first meet Brunin FitzWarin at ten years of age. He’s a solemn boy, and you find out why when you meet his family. Good thing his father has a head on those shoulders — he fosters Brunin with a close family friend, hoping that a different influence will bring Brunin out of his shell while teaching him the skills he’ll need to become a Knight and the next Lord of Whittington.Joscelin de Dinan and his wife Sybilla are good people, and Brunin’s initial wariness and surprise at the difference between their household and his family’s quickly dissipates as he settles into life at Ludlow. Not only does he get to ride a pony and train with weapons, Brunin also learns that girls are confounding creatures. Especially the younger di Dinan daughter, Hawise, who’s so much of a tomboy even Brunin is shocked upon meeting her.Shadows and Strongholds‘s 522 pages are packed with characters who’ll stick with you. I don’t think I’m the only one to sigh with relief that Brunin gets to relax and grow into his own skin. I know I can’t be the only one who wants to strangle his grandmother, and give his mother a backbone. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to smack Marion — the di Dinan’s other fosterling — upside her head, and more than once or twice at that.Some of Shadows and Strongholds will be hard to read, but Chadwick doesn’t soften the blows for the sake of sensibilities. Instead, you get how stark and sometimes desperate it can get when everything you have, and everything you are is on the line. I loved how real this story is, how real the characters are. And I wanted more of both even when I’d turned the last page. A must-read for historical fiction fans everywhere!drey’s rating: Outstanding!