Being very bad about that sort of thing, I read the first couple of chapters, skipped about in the middle, and finished off with the end. (Take note, and do not follow my example. It was a most depraved thing to do.) Then I had to return it to the library, but the bits and pieces were so good that I always wanted to get it back and redeem myself at some future date.
I did. I read it from beginning to end, with only a few surreptitious glances ahead at parts I especially liked. And it was so much better all as one tale, taken in order, that I would highly recommend anyone who reads it not to look ahead, but to savor the enjoyment of watching it unfold a chapter at a time.
So here we are: Men of Iron, by Howard Pyle
When Richard II abdicates, leaving the throne to Henry IV, young Myles Falworth is taken by his parents into hiding. His blind father, Sir Richard, is stripped of his lands for his loyalty to Richard, and though he can do nothing to better his case, he bides his time and places his hopes in his young son's future.
The lad promises to be a fair fighter; skilled, and taking quickly to the lessons he is given. Myles is well-equipped at sixteen to take on the role of squire, and the Earl of Mackworth, kinsman to Sir Richard, agrees to have him.
Under the rough tutelage of an old friend, Sir James Lee, Myles grows up with a sturdy independence and a tenacious will to better himself. The first to claim his rights whenever they are violated, he grows up a leader among his fellow squires, winning their allegiance and respect.
He also manages, through secret visits, to fall in love with the Lady Alice, until her father finds out and puts an end to the acquaintance.
At nineteen years of age, Sir Robert's plans are ripe for action, and Myles is knighted as a Knight of Bath to make him eligible to win back his heritage by conquest. Brace in battle, skilled with the joust, he promises fair to win back his family's honor; and when King Henry allows him to challenge his father's enemy by combat to the death, Myles eagerly takes up the quest to win his father's honor and his own fair maiden all in one stroke.
The story is so good. It's a very G.A. Hentyish kind of tale, only I liked the characterizations slightly better than Henty (no disparagement intended, of course.) Myles Falworth is a valiant, manly, yet loveable hero, and I quite cheered him on during the entire course of his adventures. He's passionate, he's impetuous, and he takes the chances against all odds that all good knights must take. The best of books always ends with a battle of ultimate good against ultimate evil, where the stakes are so high they turn your fingernails ragged from all the biting, and though the climax in this book is fairly brief, it promises to offer all the high-stakes tension you could wish for (provided you don't look ahead, in which case the tension won't diminish a lick, but you'll know what happens after it.)
In an age of literature when the heroes were virtuous, except for the fault of courageous impetuosity, and the heroines were spotless feminine damsels worthy of any knight's hand, we're given an enjoyable tale of clearly cut good vs. evil. This is the perfect book to relax with on a summer's day, preferably by a small lake in a grove of pine trees; but if those luxuries aren't available, a cozy armchair will do just as well.
After seeing Howard Pyle's prowess with Men of Iron, I'm very much interested in checking out his version of Robin Hood. He wrote books specifically for children (though not childish in tone) so his purpose is generally to provide a good clean historical read suitable for family entertainment. While books with adult themes and more food for thought are enjoyable, it's always refreshing to find an author with material that one can read aloud without skipping.
If you haven't yet read Men of Iron, be sure to check it out. A brave tale of a young man's journey to manhood, and one worth many a re-read.