When Myles is old enough to begin training in arms, his father sends him to the Earl of Mackworth, a distant and powerful relative. Myles has many adventures on his way to becoming a knight—from his first hot-headed resistance to the tyranny of the older squires, culminating in pitched battle, to the day that he falls through a trellis to the ground at the feet of Lady Anne and Lady Alice, the Earl's daughter and niece.
Initially resentful that the Earl has, until now, ignored the Falworth family's existence, Myles soon begins to realise that he is of special interest to the Earl—that he is being trained as the champion, not just of the Falworth family, but of many other powerful interests as well. On the day when he finally stands ready, will he be able to clear his father's name, restore the Falworth fortunes, and win Lady Alice's hand?
Men of Iron is a book that I have very early memories of, from when Mum first read it aloud to us. I found it then, as I find it now, extraordinarily vivid and exciting, with a real current of danger—wounds and death are a real possibility from Chapter 1, and there's no guarantee that Myles will survive the book in the end. Howard Pyle keeps the plot rolling—it's a wonderful mix of combat, intrigue, and historical detail. The archaic speech patterns are, as far as I can tell, convincing.
The dark and dangerous undercurrent of the plot, however, does not bog the book down. Pyle subcreates a hero you can cheer for, a boy who must learn honour and calm in the midst of war. There is nothing objectionable in this book, built as it is on a solid moral foundation.
If I have a quibble, it is the fact that Myles starts the book somewhat headstrong and foolish, but although these character flaws shape the plot of the first two-thirds, they disappear altogether at one point without a really serious catalyst—the Earl's first few warnings could have been used to foreshadow a more serious conflict in which Myles would have been forced to leave them behind forever. However that is only a slight fault in an otherwise excellent book.
As far as I can tell, Pyle set out to write this book with three major aims in view. First, to document what could have been the life of a young knight in medieval England, for the information of young readers. Second, to give boy readers an example worth emulating. And third, to write a rattling good yarn. He succeeded with all three aims. All the Howard Pyle books I've read have been exceptionally good, but this one remains my favourite: the story of a boy's journey to manhood in the first Christendom. Highly recommended.
Men of Iron was allegedly filmed as The Black Shield of Falworth in 1954. I haven't seen it and can't comment on it, more than to say it doesn't appear to bear a whole lot of resemblance to the original book. If you've seen it, share in the comments!