Quick Review: The Good Knight by Sarah Woodbury

Summary from Goodreads: Intrigue, suspicion, and rivalry among the royal princes casts a shadow on the court of Owain, king of north Wales… The year is 1143 and King Owain seeks to unite his daughter in marriage with an allied king. But when the groom is murdered on the way to his wedding, the bride’s brother tasks his two best detectives—Gareth, a knight, and Gwen, the daughter of the court bard—with bringing the killer to justice. And once blame for the murder falls on Gareth himself, Gwen must continue her search for the truth alone, finding unlikely allies in foreign lands, and ultimately uncovering a conspiracy that will shake the political foundations of Wales.

My Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Both Gareth and Gwen were fantastic characters, and authentic to the time period.  Gwen especially was well-written.  It’s not easy creating a female character that is vulnerable without her coming across as weak, but in Gwen we have a character that is both vulnerable because of the time in which she lives, yet strong in spite of it.  The romance was convincing, the setting wonderfully described, and the story itself was historically accurate.  Highly recommended to fans of historical fiction.

Rating:

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Book Review: A Plague on Both Your Houses by Susanna Gregory

* This review may contain spoilers *

A Plague on Both Your Houses is the first book in the Matthew Bartholomew series by Susanna Gregory.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A great first book in a series! Interesting characters and setting, and an engaging mystery.  Highly recommended for fans of Ellis Peters Cadfael books. 4 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

In the tradition of Ellis Peters, A Plague on Both Your Houses introduces the physician Matthew Bartholomew…

…whose unorthodox but effective treatment of his patients frequently draws accusations of heresy from his more traditional colleagues. Besides his practice, Bartholomew is teacher of medicine at Michaelhouse, part of the fledging University of Cambridge.

In 1348 the inhabitants of Cambridge live under the shadow of a terrible pestilence that has ravaged Europe and is travelling relentlessly eastwards towards England. Bartholomew, however, is distracted by the sudden and inexplicable death of the Master of Michaelhouse – a death the University authorities do not want investigated. His pursuit of the truth leads him into a complex tangle of lies and intrigue that cause him to question the innocence of his closest friends – and even his family.

And then the Black Death finally arrives…

Favourite Quote

Clenching his fists in frustration, he wondered whether he should have complied with Nathaniel’s request – applied leeches to his arm to remove the excess of humours, and read his stars to see what other treatment they might suggest.  But the man only had a hangover!

(From A Plague on Both Your Houses by Susanna Gregory, page 92)

Review

Cambridge of 1348 is brought to life vividly and with ease against the backdrop of the plague, in what might be consider another perfect choice for a lockdown read…

For the first book in a series, this grabbed me with both hands! The characters were engaging, the setting in place and time interesting, and the mystery entertaining.  Many plot twists and turns ensured that the story held my attention throughout and never once felt predictable.

Matthew is an interesting character.  Like Ellis Peters healing monk, Cadfael, they are both men who walk an unusual path in their chosen vocations.  Cadfael is A Rare Benedictine ( I couldn’t resist the reference! 😉 ) with a lifetime of worldly experience under his belt before donning his monk’s robes and this gives him a certain perspective on all that unfolds around him.  Matthew is a physician who spurns the widely “accepted” treatments of the day – leeches and star charts – for what we would clearly recognise today as medicine, thanks to his Arab teacher.

As Matthew is a physician, expect to read descriptions of the medical conditions that require his attention and his treatment of them. As the plague strikes Cambridge, many of these passages focus on the symptoms of the pestilence, which some readers might enjoy less than others. Personally, I didn’t find it to be too much, and I thought the spread of the disease and the effect it had on the people of the story was handled sensitively.

For an otherwise well-written, convincing story we seemed to slip a little towards medieval melodrama towards the end.  Here, the hitherto clever villains paused in the execution of their plan to explain all they had done to up to this point and the motives behind their actions, to ensure that everyone understood why they were doing what they were doing.  This seemed out of step with the rest of the story, and drew out the conclusion far beyond what I expected.

That being said, all loose ends were nicely tied up as we reached the last page, and the final act is certainly dramatic and exciting. The book, on the whole, finds a balance between action and ordinary life, and as the story progresses, the pace picks up nicely.

If you’ve got connections to Cambridge, especially the University (like the author of the book) you will find this an entertaining, captivating yarn.  If you are a fan of Cadfael, or are interested in medieval history and medicine, I think you will also enjoy this book. The next book in the series is An Unholy Alliance, and I’m looking forward to reading it very much!

Rating

 

Book Review: Blood Queen by Joanna Courtney

 

Blood Queen is the first book in the Shakespeare’s Queens series by Joanna Courtney.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Rich in historical detail and vivid imagery, Blood Queen is the story of two strong women – one of whom is Lady Macbeth – battling for the Scottish throne in the eleventh century. 2.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Cold. Ruthless. Deadly. The myth of Lady Macbeth looms large. But behind the villainous portrait stands a real woman. This is her story.

Scotland, 1020 AD – King Malcolm II is fading fast. It is North vs South, for two families have a claim on the inheritance of his crown. Who will gain the Scottish throne?

On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, a flushed and nervous Cora MacDuff waits to marry her sweetheart, Macbeth. But her dreams are about to be stolen from her as the night she was hoping for turns into a brutal slaughter. In order to reclaim the life she was promised, she will learn to use every weapon at her disposal – even her son.

Favourite Quote

He was so wee, so helpless, but, without even knowing it yet, he was so very powerful. It was both a torment and a source of joy.

(From Blood Queen by Joanna Courtney, page 81)

Review

As soon as I saw the cover to this book, with its red and gold colours, the style of lettering, the Celtic cross necklace…it had my attention.  There was no question of me walking away from it without purchasing a copy.

However, hmm…this book was a bit of a mixed bag.  There were somethings that I enjoyed and others not so much.  What I will say is that I had quite high expectations for the story, and it did have great potential, but it was not the book I hoped it would be.

My biggest problem, I think, was this book was marketed as the tale of Lady Macbeth, which was inaccurate.  In my opinion, it was the story of two women, one of whom was Lady Macbeth, the other Lady Duncan.  The story switches between their POVs and documents a struggle for the Alban throne during the early to mid eleventh century.

One of the big positives I took from the book was that these two women were strong, brave and courageous, unquestioningly and unapologetically so.  It is they who provide the driving force for the fight for the crown, spurring their menfolk towards kingship and vengeance when it is often perceived that women at that time had very limited influence in the world.

That being said, I think my favourite character was probably Macbeth himself.  His love for Cora was always unwavering and sincere, even when Cora didn’t necessarily deserve it, for her character had a harsh streak to it, until age had mellowed her. I also liked Duncan for his love of Sibyll and he freely admitted to her that she was the source of his strength.  Out of Cora and Sibyll, I preferred the latter; her support for husband when even his own family doubted him was heart-warming to read.

I was caught a little off guard by a number of graphic passages in the story, some of them being violence against women, which although isn’t historically inaccurate, it was unexpected. You’ve been warned!

The scenery was very well described, and it was clear that the writer had gone to great lengths to research the historical detail.  I like that a character lived in a crannog – a house on stilts built over water and connected to the mainland by a timber bridge.

When I got to the end of the story and started reading the historical notes, I learned that the names of the characters had been changed to ones that were more pronounceable to modern readers.  I understand why the author decided to do this, I do, but I wonder if a pronunciation guide at the beginning might have been a better, more authentic option.

The second book in this series, Fire Queen, tells the tale of Ophelia, which I hope to get around to reading at some point, but I’m not sure when that will be.

Rating

2.5 / 5

Book Review: The Wild Hunt by Elizabeth Chadwick


The Wild Hunt is the first book in the Ravenstow trilogy by Elizabeth Chadwick.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Very readable and addictive.  The Wild Hunt is everything I enjoy in historical fiction: rich, historical detail intertwined with intriguing fictional elements.  5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

In the wild, windswept Welsh marches a noble young lord rides homewards, embittered, angry and in danger. He is Guyon, lord of Ledworth, heir to threatened lands, husband-to-be of Judith of Ravenstow. Their union will save his lands – but they have yet to meet…

For this is Wales at the turn of the twelfth century. Dynasties forge and fight, and behind the precarious throne of William Rufus political intrigue is raging. Caught amidst the violence are Judith and Guyon, bound together yet poles apart. But when a dark secret from the past is revealed and the full horror of war crashes over Guyon and Judith, they are forced to face insurmountable odds. Together…

Favourite Quote

Panic was like fire when it spread – difficult to contain and very destructive.

(The Wild Hunt by Elizabeth Chadwick, page 323)

Review

This is the first of Elizabeth Chadwick’s books that I have read, and must say, I found it compelling, addictive reading. I’m looking forward to reading more from the author, and not just the remaining books in the Ravenstow trilogy, but her others as well.

The two main characters are Guyon and Judith, forced together by an arranged marriage, courtesy of King William Rufus.  Somehow these two strangers – one worldly and experienced, the other terrified and naïve – must find a way to make their marriage work, for they are besieged on all sides by danger.  They cannot afford discord at home as well; there is too much at stake.

The age gap between the two was handled sensitively (if I remember rightly, it is twelve years; Judith is sixteen years old), yet it kept in mind that their respective ages wouldn’t have caused a stir in the 1090’s.  It’s interesting to read how their relationship develops over the course of the book, and how Judith grows from not-quite-a-woman at the start of it to a woman by the end of it.  The transformation is written perfectly.

The politics at this time are complex, especially in the region of the Marches, where the Norman nobility are trying to subdue the Welsh.  To complicate matters further, the Marcher Lords are not together united, but rather striving for their own personal power and wealth.  These issues are dramatized well in the story.  Indeed, the historical detail, whether in terms of events, or descriptions of castle features, or the fashion of the time period, is richly described, and the fictional elements combining with it create a captivating tale.

My favourite character was probably Rhosyn.  I found her intriguing; her position, her life, her story. I would love to read a novella that focuses on her life on the other side of the border.

Tis story is very readable.  The narrative captures the imagination, bringing the beauty and the danger of the Marches in the eleventh century to life with ease.  The author’s writing style helped the story flow; it was engaging and entertaining.  It had everything: politics, history, emotional conflict, an unusual love story, and main characters that are believable and flawed.

I’m eagerly anticipating reading the second book in the trilogy, The Running Vixen.  Highly recommended to fans of historical fiction set at the end of the eleventh / beginning of the twelfth century.

Rating

Book Review: The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland


Quick Review (read on for full review)

A fast-paced, chilling story of fear and superstition, set in fourteenth century rural England. A fantastic read.  Well-researched and wonderfully written.  Historical fiction at its best.  Unputdownable! 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

England, 1321. The tiny village of Ulewic teeters between survival and destruction, faith and doubt, God and demons. For shadowing the villagers’ lives are men cloaked in masks and secrecy, ruling with violence, intimidation, and terrifying fiery rites: the Owl Masters.

But another force is touching Ulewic—a newly formed community built and served only by women. Called a beguinage, it is a safe harbor of service and faith in defiance of the all-powerful Church.

Behind the walls of this sanctuary, women have gathered from all walks of life: a skilled physician, a towering former prostitute, a cook, a local convert. But life in Ulewic is growing more dangerous with each passing day. The women are the subject of rumors, envy, scorn, and fury…until the daughter of Ulewic’s most powerful man is cast out of her home and accepted into the beguinage—and battle lines are drawn.

Into this drama are swept innocents and conspirators: a parish priest trying to save himself from his own sins…a village teenager, pregnant and terrified…a woman once on the verge of sainthood, now cast out of the Church.…With Ulewic ravaged by flood and disease, and with villagers driven by fear, a secret inside the beguinage will draw the desperate and the depraved—until masks are dropped, faith is tested…and every lie is exposed.

Favourite Quote

I could have included so many, but I have whittled it down to two, the first, I think is certainly still relevant today…

*

Even when she was in a good mood Merchant Martha hated to be stuck behind anything, and fury did not improve her driving.

(The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland, pg 145)

*

‘…will you not make peace with God?’

‘What’s there to make peace about?  I’ve not spoken to God, nor He to me, so we’ve never had cause to quarrel.’

(The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland, pg 286)

Review

This was the first of Karen Maitland’s books I read, and I have been hooked on her writing ever since.  I first read this book sometime before 2014 (which was the year I shelved it on Goodreads) so it’s been a good long while since I last read it.  In my opinion, The Owl Killers is just as good as Company of Liars, if not better (it’s hard for me tell, because I love them both).

The Owl Killers is a story about myth, legend and folklore, new beliefs versus old ones, but most of all, it is a story about strong women at a time when being strong and confident in your womanhood went against contemporary opinions of how a woman should be:

‘…you mustn’t be afeared, you’ve got the strength of a woman.’

Servant Martha, Healing Martha, Pega, Gwenith, Agnes…they (and more of the characters beside) are inspiring and strong, even when they’re not certain of it themselves.  And, they are not all strong in the same way or face the same problems.  Each character faces some sort of hardship that would have been faced by the women of the Dark Ages.  And not only do they have their own personal issues to deal with, but as a collective, they have much to face also.  The common people fear them for they cannot understand them.  The Church is against them because they cannot control them, and this, at a time when the Church held the power of life and death in their hands.

A beguinage – a sanctuary for women who did not wish to marry or become a nun – sounds to me, the perfect refuge for a woman who seeks only to be herself, who seeks freedom from the dominance of others.  Of course, these communities were not without rules, the paramount one being that one must remain celibate as long as they were part of the community, but you also had to serve the community you were part of in some way; in the fields, in the infirmaries, etc.  These women were also educated and taught to read, and could be elected to the council of Martha’s who together ensured these establishments were run as well as they possibly could be.

The location of the story was perfect; an isolated, fictitious village in Norfolk serves as the cauldron where all things meet.  And the darker elements of folklore and superstition were spooky enough, scary enough, to ensure the reader understands why the local population behave as they do.  And the lengths some of them go to because of fear and superstition is chilling.

I enjoyed how the story was set out: the timeline reflects that of the day: saints days, feasts and festivals, and the months are given to indicate where in the year we are, and alongside each, there is a snippet or two of background information regarding the day.  All very interesting and very educational.

There is so much I could say about this book – I’ve yet to mention changing climates and catastrophes such as poor harvests – but, for fear of writing an essay, I had better bring this review to an end.  If you enjoy well-researched historical fiction combined with the gothic and supernatural, and a story well-grounded in the time it is set, I can’t recommend this book enough.  Unputdownable!

Rating

5 Reviews for…Fiction Set During the Medieval Period

I haven’t posted one of these for a few years (gasp!), so it’s high time for another.  About thirty-five to forty percent of the historical fiction I read is set during the Medieval period (1066-1485).  All right, I’ve not done the maths, but it is an educated guess…

It is one of my favourite periods of history purely because so much of the architecture has survived to the present day.  Nearly every English village has a church that dates back this far, and most towns have more than one.  Then there are the castles and big houses, smaller houses and pubs…I just find it fascinating, so its no wonder I like to read stories set in this period.

Below you will find links to a number of books set during the Medieval period that I not only enjoyed, but also recommend:

  • Company of Liars by Karen Maitland – Set in 1348, a diverse group of people are brought together under extremely stressful and deadly circumstances: the plague has arrived in England. Absorbing, compelling reading, this is probably my favourite book by the author.
  • Inquisition by Alfredo Collito – Set in 1311.  A suspenseful read, full of action and drama, Inquisition is a compelling read centred on the early days of modern science, The Templars and of course, the Inquisition.
  • We Speak No Treason by Rosemary Hawley Jarman – This is actually a two books series: The Flowering of The Rose and The White Rose Turned to Blood – It tells the story of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who will become Richard III, told from the viewpoint of his mistress and his fool in the first book, and his sworn man and the mistress in the second book.  Set in the later decades of the fifteenth century, both books are fantastic pieces of historical fiction, and also, I found, quite emotional.
  • The Apothecary Rose by Candace Robb – Set in 1363, The Apothecary Rose is the first Owen Archer mystery.  Owen Archer, on losing an eye while fighting in France, needs a new occupation and quickly finds himself employed as a spy for the Lord Chancellor.  His first missions has him sent to York to investigate a series of mysterious deaths…
  • A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters – This list wouldn’t be complete without a Cadfael mystery, would it?  Not only have I chosen to list A Morbid Taste for Bones (set in 1137) here because it is The First Chronicle of Brother Cadfael, but also because it is my favourite.  Why?  Because it clearly shows how important relics were to religious houses during the period, and the lengths these religious houses would go to obtain them…

Have you read any of these books?  What did you think to them?  I would love to hear your thoughts…

Book Review: St Peter’s Fair by Ellis Peters

St Peter’s Fair is the fourth book in the Brother Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An engaging and entertaining medieval whodunnit, with a fantastic ending.  Cosy, comfortable and easy.  Always a joy to read.  5 /5

Summary (from back of book)

The great annual Fair of Saint Peter at Shrewsbury, a high point in the city’s calendar, attract merchants from far and wide to do business.  But when an unseemly quarrel breaks out between the local burghers and the monks from the Benedictine monastery as to who shall benefit from the levies the fair provides, a riot ensues.  Afterwards a merchant is found dead – and Brother Cadfael is summoned from his peaceful monastery herb-garden to test his skills as a detective once more.

Favourite Quote(s)

‘There’s very little to be known about this precinct and the town of Shrewsbury,’ agreed Aline with conviction, ‘that Brother Cadfael does not know.’

(Saint Peter’s Fair by Ellis Peters, pg 60)

*

‘Penitence is in the heart, not in the words spoken.’

(Saint Peter’s Fair by Ellis Peters, pg 63)

Review

St Peter’s Fair is an engaging and entertaining read in the Brother Cadfael series. The premise of the local religious house disagreeing with the town it is almost part of yet separate from, is always an interesting one.  Here, the focus is on travelling merchants, in town for St Peter’s Fair, a celebration of one of the saints after whom the abbey is named.  However, there is so much more than that going on beneath the surface.

Having seen the TV adaptation of this book many more times than I have read it (read “I’ve never read this instalment in the series), I found this particular Cadfael story surprised me, and I enjoyed it so much (the TV adaptation although very good, is not my favourite).  And this reminds me that it can be quite difficult -in some cases, impossible – for me at any rate, to distance myself from the dramatization when thinking of or reading the book.

Ellis Peters is very good at understanding people and creating characters and it shows in her books, especially this one.  We have hot-headed yet ultimately harmless youths with a grievance, bold merchants, an Under Sheriff who is sensible in the pursuit of justice, and two medieval women who are both strong and astute.  The latter, Emma Vernold – the daughter of a merchant from Bristol – and Aline, Hugh Beringer’s wife, I liked a lot.

The author is also very good at recreating historical time periods in her books.  The description and detail is never too heavy, but there is enough to immerse the reader in the sights and sounds of each setting.  It is easy to think of the medieval world as hard and bland and colourless.  Although it was hard for most, the work back-breaking for many, and life could be terribly unfair and short, these glimpses into medieval life show it wasn’t like that for everyone, all the time.

These cosy historical mysteries are a joy to read; comfortable and easy.  The ending was very good, and the romantic subplot added an extra dimension to the story.

I enjoyed this fourth Cadfael book more than the last one I read, and I enjoyed that one very much having awarded Monk’s Hood (read the review here) a 4.5 star rating.  So I can do no other than give St Peter’s Fair the full five.

Rating

Book Review: The Boy-Bishop’s Glovemaker by Michael Jecks

The Boy-Bishop’s Glovemaker is the tenth book in the Knight’s Templar series by Michael Jecks.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An engaging Christmas tale that brings the medieval past to life.  Sir Baldwin and Bailiff Puttock are very likeable main characters, and the mystery is cleverly-written.  Highly recommended! 5 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

For Sir Baldwin Furnshill, Keeper of the King’s Peace, and his friend, Bailiff Simon Puttock, the Christmas of 1321 looks set to be one of great festivity.  As a reward for their investigative services, they’ve been summoned to Exeter to receive the prestigious gloves of honour in a ceremony led by the specially elected Boy-Bishop.  But the dead man swinging on the gallows as they arrive is a portentous greeting…

Within hours, they learn that Ralph – the cathedral’s glovemaker and the city’s beloved philanthropist – has been robbed and stabbed to death.  When Peter, a Secondary at the cathedral, collapses from poisoning in the middle of Mass, the finger of suspicion turns to him.  Yet if he was Ralph’s attacker, where are the missing riches now?  And did Peter commit suicide – or was he murdered too?

When Simon and Baldwin are asked to solve the riddles surrounding the deaths, they soon find that many of Exeter’s leading citizens are not what – and who – they first seem to be, and that the city’s Christmas bustle is concealing a ruthless murderer who is about to strike again…

Favourite Quote

At one corner Ralph passed a few poorer folk huddled around a brazier of charcoal.  In the glover’s opinion they looked little better than heathens standing with their hands outstretched to the flames like priests worshipping fire…

Review

First, let me begin by saying this is the first book I have read in the series – I have a number of the titles on my bookshelves but I wanted to read a medieval festive story so picked this one.  It reads perfectly as a standalone; I had no trouble getting acquainted with the main characters and didn’t feel like I needed to have read the preceding volumes prior to this one – but I shall be returning to read them all because this one was fantastic.

This is a cleverly written, complicated story showing the carefully intersected and interwoven lives of a community.  There is a lot going on here, and the cast of characters reflects that, as does the pace of the storytelling.  There is much action to be found, as well as twists and turns.  The identity of the culprit takes some fathoming out, but there are clues along the way if you’re astute enough to spot them.

I liked both Sir Baldwin and Bailiff Puttock.  I thought they were sensible and didn’t allow anyone else’s thoughts to interfere with their own conclusions.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading how Christmas was celebrated during the period.  It’s interesting that the tradition of the Boy-Bishop is reminiscent of the Roman festival of Saturnalia.

The story is well-researched (as attested to by the front matter in the book – a glossary, The Regulations for the Boy-Bishop at Exeter Cathedral after Bishop Grandisson (translated from the Latin by Margaret Cash), a cast of characters and an author’s note – but never once did I feel that it was too much, or too heavy-going.  The level of detail in the writing brings the early fourteenth century to life with ease.  I could clearly envisage where we were and who was there as we changed locations in and around Exeter and met all the different characters.

An engaging mystery.  I am looking forward to reading more from this series. Highly recommended!

Rating

 

Book Review: Monk’s Hood by Ellis Peters

 

Monk’s Hood is the third novel in the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters.

Quick Review (read on for the full review)

Another great whodunnit in the Brother Cadfael series of books.  An easy, gentle-paced cosy mystery that vividly brings the twelfth century to life.  Fantastic!  4.5 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

Gervase Bonel, with his wife and servants, is a guest of Shrewsbury Abbey when he is suddenly taken ill.  Luckily, the Abbey boasts the services of the clever and kindly Brother Cadfael, a skilled herbalist.  Cadfael hurries to the man’s bedside, only to be confronted by two very shocking surprises.  In Master Bonel’s wife, the good monk recognises Richildis, whom he loved many years ago before he took his vows.  And Master Bonel has been fatally poisoned by a dose of deadly monk’s-hood oil from Cadfael’s herbarium.

The sheriff is convinced that the murderer is Richildis’s son Edwin, who had reasons aplenty to hate his stepfather.  But Cadfael, guided in part by his tender concern for a woman to whom he was once betrothed, is certain of her son’s innocence.  Using his knowledge of both herbs and the human heart, Cadfael deciphers a deadly recipe for murder…

Favourite Quote

“Don’t reach for your halo too soon.  You have plenty of time to enjoy yourself, even a little maliciously sometimes, before you settle down to being a saint.”

Review

Another great instalment in the Brother Cadfael mystery series.  This one gives us a little glimpse into Cadfael’s years before him becoming a soldier and joining the Crusades, as well as how he came to be where he is.

In Monk’s Hood, one of Cadfael’s own herbal remedies has been used to kill a man.  Naturally, for someone who has chosen to focus what remains of his life to healing the ills and hurts of others, this doesn’t sit very well with him at all.  When he realises that the sheriff is on the wrong track – and refuses to budge from it – he sets out himself to discover who the real killer is.

At times this causes him a great deal of trouble – both inside and outside of the Abbey.  But, using all his worldly wisdom, and his methodical nature, he slowly but surely uncovers the culprit.

The pace was just right for this particular story; the story flows gently, allowing for different threads to unfold as Cadfael explores all that is going on.  That is not to say that the book is slow-going, not at all, only that the gentle pace is perfect for this cosy mystery.

In the story, the question of justice, and what constitutes a fitting punishment for a crime, is tackled, which is interesting, especially when expressed through the thoughts of a twelfth century monk.  Cadfael’s compassion shines through, and his contemplative way of life ensures that he doesn’t judge quickly or harshly.  It is often this reflection that allows him to see things others miss.

The period vividly comes to life, as do the multiple settings for the story (the Abbey, the town of Shrewsbury, the isolated sheepfold and the land to either side of the English-Welsh border).  The cast of characters is vast, and my favourites included Hugh Beringar, the deputy sheriff of Shropshire, Richildis, the woman to whom Cadfael was secretly affianced before becoming a soldier, and Brother Mark, a novice working alongside Cadfael in the herbarium.

The next book in the series is Saint Peter’s Fair, which I’m looking forward to reading because it is only one of a few from the series I’ve yet to read.

Rating

4.5 / 5

 

 

Short Story Review: Eye Witness by Ellis Peters

Eye Witness is the third and final short story in the collection, A Rare Benedictine by Ellis Peters.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

 An enjoyable, quick read that sees Cadfael tackle a mystery with his usual style of logic, observation and a keen understanding people.  A perfectly cosy, comfort read.  4.5 / 5

Summary

The yearly rents are due for collection from all the properties owned by Shrewsbury Abbey.  The monk whose job it is to oversee and collect these monies, Brother Ambrose, is sick in the infirmary, and so the task must fall to another, William Rede.  The job is a difficult one, but he also has problems closer to home.  His son, Eddi, is a “brawler and a gamester”.  When he racks up debts, he expects his father to pay them, but not this time.  William Rede has decided enough is enough.

The following day, Madog of the Dead-Boat pulls a man out of the River Severn, still alive but in a bad way.  The man is William Rede and the Abbey rents have been stolen.

Cadfael will have to use all at his disposal to not only help William Rede recover, but also to find out if the victim’s son is really as guilty as he looks…

Favourite Quote

“Now William,” he said tolerantly, “if you can’t comfort, don’t vex.”

Review

Although this is only a short story, it is packed with as much story as one of the full length Cadfael novels.  This means that although you may have your suspicions as to who is the culprit, you are not quite sure until you reach the end.

It is a well-thought out mystery that Cadfael tackles with his usual style of logic, observation and a keen understanding of people.  He is not going to make the same mistake as others in jumping to the wrong – and the easiest – conclusion.

As the final story in this collection it is perfect, showing each side to Cadfael’s personality – the healer, the mystery solver, the sympathetic, compassionate man who understands both the problems of real life and a life hidden away from the world.  By the end of Eye Witness, and thus A Rare Benedictine, we see that Cadfael is not only settled in his new life, but enjoying it.  We also see the sleuth he is to become.

This collection makes the perfect prequel to the novels.  If you’ve read the longer stories but not these, I recommend you do.

Rating

4.5 / 5