When Owen Archer loses the sight in one of his eyes, his military career under the duke of Lancaster is over. Or so it would seem, until the duke employs him in other ways. Once the old duke dies, Archer is unsure of his future. He’s recruited by the Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor, Thoresby, to investigate a pair of murders in St. Mary’s Abbey, just outside York’s city walls. One of the victims is Thoresby’s ward and Thoresby isn’t content with the cause of death. He sends Owen to figure out what’s really happened by apprenticing him to the apothecary and giving him an entrance into the world of medieval York.
This may have been the only time in my entire life that I have not needed the map on the first few pages of this book. I’m absurdly familiar with medieval York and given that my classes are held on top of the former grounds of St. Mary’s Abbey, this book had a special thrill for me. I loved the medieval atmosphere. These characters walk through places I go every day and it’s exciting to imagine it as they would have seen it.
I liked those characters, too. I can see a bit of Owen Archer’s legendary appeal, about which I have heard much. (I read this on the recommendation of Nan Hawthorne, by the way!) I enjoyed the ambiguity about many of them, particularly Lucie, and how the truth was eventually revealed. Even the supporting characters like Bess didn’t fall flat. The Archdeacon made me feel very uncomfortable, but I think that was the point.
As far as writing goes, I felt it was a bit plain. I could certainly imagine medieval York, but it’s hard for me personally to say whether I had such an easy time because I’ve tried before and am very familiar with the city or because the author did a brilliant job imagining it. It’s hard to say, but I do think the prose was the weakest point. The story was good enough for it to vanish, as should happen, but I found it hard to immerse myself at the beginning before the plot got rolling.
I would recommend this to other people who like their historical fiction set firmly in the middle ages and probably to those who like medieval mystery as well. As for me, I’m looking forward to the next in the series. Though it is out of print, you can buy The Apothecary Rose used on Amazon.