* This review may contain spoilers *
The Leper of Saint Giles is the fifth book in the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters.
Quick review (read on for full review)
Engaging and entertaining, this is a fast-paced mystery full of unforgettable characters. 4.5 / 5
Summary (from Goodreads)
Brother Cadfael has had no time to think about the grand wedding which is to take place in the church at Shrewsbury Abbey and is causing such excitement in the city. The groom is an aging nobleman; the bride a very young woman coerced into the marriage by her greedy guardians. But it soon becomes apparent that the groom, Huon de Domville, is a cold, harsh man — in stark contrast to his beautiful bride-to-be. Before the wedding can take place, a savage killing occurs, setting Brother Cadfael the task of determining the truth, which turns out to be strange indeed.
‘I have always known that the best of the Saracens could out-Christian many of us Christians.’
(From The Leper of Saint Giles by Ellis Peters, page 220)
Another fantastic instalment in the series.
At the centre of the story are two young lovers: Iveta, a beautiful heiress and granddaughter of a great hero of the Crusades, and Jocelyn, the squire to the man to whom she has been betrothed. Not many medieval marriages were love matches, but there is something about this one that has very many onlookers look at Iveta with sadness and pity as she arrives in Shrewsbury to marry the aged Huon de Domville. For all her wealth and status, she is at the mercy of her greedy guardians.
Cadfael, always, is wonderful as the main character. Compassionate and caring, his observant nature ensures little passes him by and so when injustice strikes, he can be relied upon – by both readers and supporting characters alike – to the right the wrong if he can. As for the other characters, they are all convincing and believable. The avaricious Picards, the passionate hothead Jocelyn, the hapless Brother Oswin, the kind and inquisitive Brother Mark…all are well-crafted.
Iveta’s character is the one that stands out. She is very wishy-washy and weak, perfectly presented as the downtrodden maiden about to be forced into an unwanted marriage, which by the standards of the time is probably fairly accurate. And, as the story unfolds she does become stronger, but those whose who like their heroines to be fiery and independent from the beginning may find it difficult to connect with her.
It’s easy to get lost in the sights and sounds of medieval Shrewsbury, the abbey and the surrounding area. Historical descriptions are easy to envisage and the rich details of all the growing things that are encountered as the characters journey from one place to another are a treasure to read.
Leprosy, like the pestilence, was much feared in the middle ages, and those who suffered from it were segregated from healthy populations. [A side note: this was another book I read during lockdown…] The disease is handled very sensitively in the story, as we meet lepers of all ages, at various stages of the disease. Bran, a young lad at the leper house, has to be one of my favourite characters from across the series, and Lazarus is like a guardian angel.
The ending is one of the best of the series, where all threads meet with fairly explosive force and the truth comes out in its entirety. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction. The next book in the series is The Virgin in the Ice, which is one of my favourite Cadfael books. I’m excited to revisit this one, and hope to get around to it soon.
Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #17 in the list: a book that has been adapted for TV or film