July 2024
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Review: Blood and Roses, Helen Castor

This work of history takes a look at the multi-generational Paston family throughout the years immediately after the Black Death and through the Wars of the Roses.  The Pastons left behind an immense number of letters which have been miraculously preserved for six hundred years and as such are a historical treasure trove for those of us who wonder how gentlemen lived in the fifteenth century.  Helen Castor recounts the rise and fall of their fortunes here, illuminating their individual personalities; the tenacious women, especially Agnes and Margaret, the hard-working William and John and the at times disappointing John II.  Using the Pastons as a lens, Castor picks up larger issues at work in fifteenth century England and provides a fascinating biography about a surprisingly ordinary family.

I read this one for my dissertation, so I paid much closer attention to it than I would have otherwise.  To my surprise, I still really enjoyed it.  Helen Castor writes clearly and succinctly, so that while we’re learning facts, we don’t feel bogged down by too much academic language.  She also summarizes quite a bit of information about the period, so I think this would be useful for even those who aren’t too familiar with fifteenth-century England.  Even though I’m well acquainted with the Black Death and the manueverings of the Wars of the Roses, it is integrated enough into the Pastons’ story so as not to become boring.

I have personally read quite a number of the Paston letters; they’re invaluable because the Pastons were intimately involved at court and reflect the surprising amount of social mobility available shortly after so many died in the Black Death, so they have both an insider’s perspective and a consciousness of where they had come from.  Castor reflects this well and does a very admirable job condensing the contents of the letters and quoting them where necessary to provide a steady, smooth narrative.  It does falter occasionally because the Pastons were embroiled in a seventeen year struggle to reap some benefit out of Sir John Fastolf’s will after John I became closely involved with him.  This can get boring, but the way the families’ characters show through the struggle kept me reading and it was certainly worth it in the end.

This would be a wonderful book to start with for anyone who is interested in familiarizing themselves with fifteenth century England.  For those who have enjoyed the recent spate of historical fiction centered around the Wars of the Roses, Blood and Roses would be an excellent choice to broaden your knowledge of the period while avoiding writing that feels too academic or stilted.  I highly recommend it.


Review: Crossed, Nicole Galland

One day in the year 1202, a British man breaks into the tent of a marquis, believing that he can both kill his enemy and be killed himself, achieving his ultimate goals in this life.  Fortunately, the Briton is unwillingly rescued from suicide by a pious knight, Gregor of Mainz, something of a religious and martial icon at the start of the Fourth Crusade.  Before they set sail, the Briton manages to rescue an Arab princess, who shares space on the journey with Gregor, his brother Otto, Otto’s concubine, and two dimwitted servants.  Together, this peculiar crew embark on one of history’s most disastrous mistakes with thousands of other knights, clerics, and leaders.

It probably isn’t normal for most readers of this book to know all about the catastrophic Fourth Crusade.  Catastrophic in hindsight, that is; this one was remarkably successful in terms of victories but horrid in terms of killing other Christians and not even coming close to achieving its goal of retaking Jerusalem.  For the record, all the crusades were wrong and are actually appalling to think about, but this one is even so in medieval terms, which is quite impressive.  So on approaching Crossed, I generally had down the politics, the outline of events, and the crazy people who were at the head of this insanity.  If I hadn’t, I think the politics would have irritated me, but the history is great.  No one can make this stuff up.  It’s just too unreal for words, but it happened, and at a comfortable 800 year distance, we can even find it horrific in an amusing way.

Such is what Galland accomplishes with Crossed. She doesn’t really go for a medieval mindset with these characters.  The closest is probably Gregor, who adheres to medieval standards very rigidly, but the rest of the characters are often used to play with the absurdities of medieval life rather than being approximations of the people who might have lived 800 years ago.  I got used to this idea in Galland’s first book and it hasn’t really bothered me since now that I know what she’s doing.  The Briton is mainly the character that she uses for this purpose, employing hindsight to fuel his clever retorts and lamentations on fate, such as in response to the glory of battle,

“Is Christ smiling down at you for this?  Do you become more Christian if you smear yourself in Christian gore?” (302)

At all times, we’re fully aware that this crusade is horrible and what the knights are being told to do is completely wrong.  It’s terrible, but it’s also showing us the absurdity of the entire idea by poking at its ridiculousness.

Not all of the book is great, though.  Parts do drag.  The history is fascinating, but the politics less so, and after a point the relationship between the Briton and Jamila has more or less been exhausted.  The book is lengthy because it manages to cover almost the entire crusade, but it also covers a great deal more.  I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure how much of that was remembering my favorite old history professor teaching in my head as opposed to how much I was genuinely enjoying the book.  I think this is certainly worth a try for historical fiction readers and history buffs, taken with a grain of salt.  It’s perhaps not Galland’s best book but I’ll still be eagerly awaiting her fourth novel.

IndieBound | Powell’s | Amazon

As a final note: has anyone read both this and The Fool’s Tale and think that the Briton is actually a certain character from that book, or am I crazy?


Review: Flint, Margaret Redfern

From the back cover:

Will and his brother Ned are on the long march from the Fens to North Wales, commandeered into the army of ditch-diggers heading west towards Flint, to prepare the foundations of Edward I’s new castle.

The lads are nervous, and rightly so, for not only is Ned a mute, whose abilities as a horse-whisperer and herbalist make him suspicious in the eyes of their English overseers, but they have been close to the enemy.  Ned had been secretly taking lessons in music from Ieuan ap y Gof, an exiled bard, not long before the ‘recruiters’ came.  The boys find themselves besieged on all sides – unsure of their own allegiances and in danger of being thought traitors.

Finding Ieuan and saving Ned tests Will to his limits.  Finally, when all appears lost, he learns that love is sometimes harder to understand than death itself.

First, I think it’s worth noting that this book is narrated by Will but in three different time periods, denoted by a little symbol.  The first is when he is a boy, marked by a shovel, and in third person.  The second is the book’s main story, marked by a swan, and the third is narrated by an older Will and marked by a cross, and often this last is directed straight at the reader as if Will’s talking to us.  For the most part I liked this, it allows flashback without too much confusion, but it did take me a couple of chapters to realize which symbol was which.  After that, I enjoyed the multiple perspectives and almost instantly learning how the characters got to be where they are in the main story.  It’s a short book, so the plot isn’t terribly complex, and the multiple viewpoints flesh out the story more.

I also really liked that this book feels medieval.  A lot of historical fiction romanticizes everything, and generally I’m okay with that, but on occasion I like a book that is properly grim, violent, and stinky.  There’s more to medieval life than that here, but it exudes the atmosphere I can definitely imagine existing around a medieval building site, especially for a castle when they are digging the moat.  There is also some violence, people are murdered, but I wouldn’t say that it is too gruesome.  Just realistic in a culture where people eagerly stood around to watch men be hanged, drawn, and quartered, and then saw various body parts gradually rotting away on their city walls every day.

Will is probably the only character worth mentioning in terms of likeability, since the other main character, Ned, is mute, but luckily he is likeable.  This is something of a coming-of-age for him as he learns a lot about his family and himself over the course of the narrative.  He often refers to himself as a skinny, mouthy brat, but I felt like he went beyond that limited definition and came to embrace more of his potential as the book went on.

I really liked Flint. It was a welcome break from more romantic historical fiction and a great, quick coming-of-age story with an endearing main character.  I would definitely recommend it to others who enjoy historical fiction or are perhaps looking for something a little bit different than their normal read.


Review: The White Queen, Philippa Gregory

Lady Elizabeth Grey’s husband was killed at the Battle of St. Albans and she desperately wants his lands back for her two little boys.  She is tired of living in her parents’ home and would like her independence.  So she stands out in the road as the new king, Edward IV, rides by, holding their hands and hoping he’ll see her.  He does see her and takes note not only of her problems, but of her beauty, and before she knows it, Elizabeth is the queen of England and in almost over her head with politics and intrigue.  She is a Woodville, though, and she will perservere, going to the edge to push her family as high as it can possibly go before her tower of cards topples around her.

This is going to be a good long review, as I have a lot to say on this book.  For those who skim, here’s my verdict: much better than I was expecting!

If you know me and have been reading my blog, you’ll know that I’ve been working on a dissertation about Anthony Woodville (and fifteenth century chivalric culture in England overall) for what feels like forever.  As such, this book was bound to touch on a topic near and dear to my heart, and it was bound to get some of the facts wrong, if only for the sake of storytelling.  So it does; the Woodville family was loyal to Edward IV after 1461 but before he married Elizabeth, and Anthony was sent to besiege Alnwick Castle on his behalf with the earl of Warwick in 1463, not to mention that Elizabeth’s father Lord Rivers had already been appointed to office.  The beginning was anachronistic in another way because Edward kept being referred to as a boy, and there is no way anyone in the medieval period would have considered a man who had commanded and won two battles a boy.  I can see that she did this more for characterization purposes, especially given he was younger than Elizabeth, so I don’t mind as much, but still worth noting.  And Anthony was not at Tewkesbury, although he was definitely in London and fighting when Thomas Neville arrived.  There is also the whole magic subplot, but I thought that was actually quite creative, and historical inaccuracy only bothers me if people believe it’s true.  I don’t think anyone would ever believe Elizabeth and Jacquetta were witches.  I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

All that said, Philippa Gregory got more right than wrong in this instance and I was pleasantly surprised.  No one is needlessly victimized here; in fact Elizabeth is quite a sympathetic character which is refreshing after all of the villainizing that typically surrounds her.  Even Richard III is not a villain but a multi-faceted man whose ambition just kept on pushing a little too far.  The rest of the history is in many ways what has been fictionalized before, and I found nothing that really bothered me.  All things considered I enjoyed this book after the first fifty pages and I wasn’t expecting to.  Gregory even included Anthony’s poem, which is authentic and the only one that survives; she inflates his reputation to some extent, but I didn’t mind, it fit in.

Gregory writes well, and in general the book is absorbing even for someone who has heard it all before.  It’s romanticized, but in the way that makes us sigh and wish we had a big blond knight to save the day.  It’s exciting and tense because everything is dangerous, and because I kept wondering who was going to kill the princes in this version.  Another interesting twist there, and I think we’re meant to guess at what she means, but for someone who doesn’t know the history, it’s a nice question.  And in the end, I like the way Gregory twisted things here.  It’s interesting and it’s different when the story has been done over and over again.  Given the fluidity of history itself, I found myself enjoying the way she pushes boundaries and suggests things that probably didn’t happen but might have done.  I didn’t want to read another fictional recap of the Wars of the Roses, but Gregory made it a little bit new, and despite myself I think I’m looking forward to The Red Queen very much, even if I don’t think anyone ever called these ‘the cousin’s wars’.

In other words, I do recommend The White Queen. It is historical fiction, after all, and if you’re going to read another book that fictionalizes the Wars of the Roses, I highly suggest this one.

Amazon | Amazon UK


Blog Tour Review: Hugh and Bess, Susan Higginbotham

When her parents arrange for Bess de Montacute to marry Hugh le Despenser, Bess is extremely unhappy.  Hugh is the son and grandson of traitors and in his thirties, while Bess is only thirteen.  She cannot imagine ever getting along with her new husband and spurns many of his advances.  Hugh, meanwhile, is thrilled with the match, given that Bess is lovely and her family is in favor with King Edward III, but regrets having to put aside his long-term and much-loved mistress.  Still haunted by dreams of his tortured past in prison, Hugh needs someone who will love and support him.  Will Bess be the one, or will their marriage result in heartbreak?

Since I really enjoyed The Traitor’s Wife by Susan Higginbotham this spring, I was very much looking forward to Hugh and Bess.  I was not at all disappointed; Higginbotham has written an eminently charming and touching novel of romance that varies enough from Traitor’s Wife to show off her writing talent while giving us something a little bit different.

As this is essentially a novel about a relationship, the two main characters must be well developed for the book to work, and here they certainly are.  I loved Hugh and Bess.  I loved them apart but I loved them together even more, which is what made this book such a pleasure to read.  They each bring problems to the marriage, Hugh with his difficult past and Bess with her initial inability to look past Hugh’s traitorous family.  Watching them fall in love with one another and get past their individual issues was pure enjoyment.  Higginbotham efficiently fills us in on the history of Edward II and the Despensers, so readers without knowledge of the period will fully understand the stigma Hugh faces as he attempts to rebuild his family’s name.  It also helps that the cast of this novel is considerably smaller; we don’t need an epic to get to know these people, and just under 300 pages is the perfect length for this book.

One rather small detail I appreciated was Higginbotham’s attention to the chivalric education of young men around this time.  I just so happen to be educating myself on this topic right now and I love that she stuck to the history and incorporated her research, particularly in this one area about which I have become well-informed.  It makes me trust the rest of her facts, which are all accurate as far as I know.  Of course, historical novelists tend to slant portrayal of all characters one way or the other, but it’s wonderful knowing that there is a sound basis for such decisions.

Hugh and Bess is a wonderful read. I highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction (and romance!) everywhere. I’m eagerly awaiting more by Susan Higginbotham. In the meantime, she has a fantastic blog which you can find right here and you can also visit the other great blogs on this tour:

Musings of a Bibliophile (7/28)

Passages to the Past (8/1)

My Friend Amy (8/1)

Reading Adventures (8/2)

Jennifer’s Random Musings (8/2)

Peeking Between the Pages (8/3)

Historical Novels.info (8/3)

Grace’s Book Blog (8/4)

The Written World (8/5)

Mrs. Magoo Reads (8/5)

Historical Fiction (8/6)

Jenn’s Bookshelf (8/6)

The Tome Traveller’s Weblog (8/7)

Galley Cat (8/8)

Book Addiction (8/9)

Steven Till (8/10)

Carla Nayland (8/11)

The Literate Housewife Review (8/12)

Diary of an Eccentric (8/13)

Bookfoolery and Babble (8/14)


Review: Twilight of Avalon, Anna Elliott

Isolde, queen of Britain in the 6th century, has just lost her husband King Constantine and finds herself adrift and powerless in a court suddenly full of enemies.  A generation has passed since the fall of Arthur and Camelot and infighting is on track to destroy the fragile alliance among the Britons at a moment in which strength is needed to conquer the threatening Saxons.  Isolde, daughter of Arthur’s bastard son and murderer Mordred, is accused of witchcraft and sorcery and despite her suspicions, no one trusts her word; this dismays her even more because she has lost both her memories and her Sight.  She finds compassion stirred when she visits two Saxon prisoners, aiding them to end their misery by giving them a knife.  When she flees, she finds that one of them, Trystan, has escaped and becomes her trusted companion as she fights to save the British kingdom.

I have read many, many versions of Arthurian legends.  I took a class in them and I have a personal interest in them, so I’ve read mostly everything from the origins to the present day.  At times it feels like it’s impossible for a book to feel fresh and new and exciting when it’s working in this genre.  If so, Anna Elliott has definitely achieved the impossible.  I could recognize the echoes of the original Welsh legends in this book – the relations between the characters are notable in this instance – but at the same time this is a book (and I suspect will be a trilogy) that stands completely on its two feet.

Twilight of Avalon is grounded in historical fiction with some added magical elements; the author herself plays with the concept that legend is always more far-fetched than truth.  For example, when Merlin is sent on a particularly dangerous mission for Isolde, he asks her to say that a beautiful enchantress has stolen him away to the Hollow Hills to explain his disappearance if he dies.  Many of us will recognize that as exactly what happens in most versions of the legend.

I really liked one of the narrative strategies that Elliott used.  Isolde has lost most of her memory from before a traumatic event in her life.  So, she’s lost most of the power she had, and she thinks it’s because she purposely blocked out half her life.  In this novel, she slowly regains memories, and by hearing the voices of the deceased come back to her, she learns gradually about her own life.  In my opinion, this is a clever strategy to catch the reader up on both the Arthurian legends (in case they have somehow managed to avoid exposure) while building Isolde’s character and history.  Elliott’s writing is a pleasure to read and very easily absorbing; I find it harder and harder to really get into books these days and I was thrilled that I could just sink into this one at any time.

Isolde herself is a strong woman, determined to make her world sit properly on its axis to the best of her ability and admirably devoted to Britain.  Trystan is a hardened warrior who has seen people at their worst but who is willing to support and save Isolde when necessary.  So far, they work well together, and the romance hasn’t even begun yet.  I thought the secondary characters were fairly well fleshed out, too, especially Trystan’s little band.

I loved Twilight of Avalon and it definitely receives my enthusiastic recommendation.  This is a keeper and I find myself excitedly anticipating the second volume in the trilogy, out next year.


Review: Pope Joan, Donna Woolfolk Cross

popejoanAs a child, Joan is beaten for her brilliance and love of books.  Her rigid father, a canon of the church, believes that women are inferior to men, incapable of learning, and is certain that his sons are destined for great careers in the church.  When Joan’s intelligence gets both her and her brother John into a school, she is mocked by everyone except kindly Gerold, a young count who takes her in since she can’t live in the boys’ dormitory.  Joan has an uncertain future until her brother John is killed in a surprise Viking attack along with almost everyone she knows.  Assuming John’s identity, Joan enters a monastery and, distinguished by her incredible mind, eventually heads to Rome in a career that will prove as dangerous as it is ambitious.

I don’t know if Pope Joan actually existed, but if she did, her life in this novel certainly makes for an amazing story.  It’s incredible how much Joan suffers and achieves in this book, going from beaten, submissive but intelligent little girl to a successful pope, albeit a female one.  Joan is someone that can easily be admired as she never lets anyone get her down or force her to do anything that she knows is wrong.  Even when the unspeakable happens during the Viking raid, Joan is able to take stock of her situation and figure out what needs to be done in order to both stay alive and get ahead in the world.  She is strong enough to deny her own personal needs for the sake of the people and her faith.

The plot of this novel feels like it moves along fairly quickly.  For under 500 pages, this book packs in a lot of events, but nothing ever feels rushed, it’s paced perfectly.  Obviously, we know Joan is going to become a pope, but how she gets there is a mystery.  There are also two other viewpoint characters, Gerold and Anastasius, who provide an alternate perspective on Joan as well as adding subplots and texture to her central story.  Of the three, I liked Anastasius the least, but he’s not exactly a true villain because he’s just too ambitious.  Most of the church was corrupt and he can’t entirely be faulted for acting as normal; Joan is just different and special enough to point out the flaws in the system.

In the author’s note, Donna Woolfolk Cross includes a fairly compelling argument for the existence of Pope Joan, although of course she was required to add huge amounts of fictional material to fill in the copious gaps which are inevitably left in any ninth-century account.  For once I didn’t care all that much if it was true because I could really lose myself in the story.  I know that women as strong as Joan must have existed in the Middle Ages, so it wasn’t really all that much of a stretch, whether there really was a Pope Joan or not.

In all, Pope Joan is a fascinating, moving work of historical fiction.  It completely captured me and I couldn’t put it down.  I highly recommend it.

While you’re here, if you do buy a copy of this book before July 31st, you can enter into the author’s red carpet contest to attend the movie premiere.  And don’t forget that if you’ve entered on my giveaway post for a signed copy of this book that a comment here will gain you another entry!


Review: My Lord John, Georgette Heyer

From the back cover:

John, Duke of Bedford, grew to manhood fighting for his father, King Henry IV of England, on the wild and lawless Northern Marches.  He was a prince of the royal blood, loyal, strong, and the greatest ally that his brother – the future Henry V – was to have.  Filled with the clash of bitter rivalries and deadly power struggles, this is Georgette Heyer’s last and most ambitious novel, bringing to life a character and a period she found irresistibly attractive.

I really wanted to like this novel.  I went into it expecting to like it.  I have really enjoyed the other works that I’ve read by Georgette Heyer and as you all know, I love historical fiction.  I just could not love this book, though, much as I tried.

First there is the language.  Heyer appears to have really tried to write this novel in the language of the fifteenth century.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work the way she intended.  Instead, it feels stilted and unfamiliar, even to one who has spent hours trying to figure out what fifteenth century people meant when they used all these words that have fallen out of the language or when they used words which don’t mean what they now mean.  I think the fifty to seventy-five years in between my work and this book make a difference because these are unquestionably proper words, but I was unfamiliar with them and they make the book a slow, slow read.

If a reader of this book has no knowledge of the history or people involved, it will constitute even more of a struggle.  Even though I have a fairly comprehensive knowledge of Henry IV’s reign, I had to refer to the family tree several times and even wished I’d taken notes so I could keep track of the various names used to refer to one person.  This is the first instance that I’ve wished for a character list, which I’ve seen in a few fantasy novels, just so I could remember who people were.

Those two problems combined with the fact that this book has no real plot and is merely a meandering through history, which isn’t even complete, made this book a slow one for me.  In the end, I didn’t see the point.  I didn’t find it enjoyable and I wasn’t searching for a resolution to a story because I knew there wasn’t one.  I think that if someone was extremely interested in the reign of Henry IV’s reign and wanted to read this alongside some comprehensive history over a lengthy period of time, it would work better.  It is historically accurate to the best of my knowledge, but I guess this just goes to show that it also takes a well told story for a compelling work of historical fiction.  I wish Heyer had applied her considerable talents, so clearly on display in her Regencies, to this novel as well.  I would recommend those instead.

IndieBound | Powell’s | Amazon


Review: The Founding, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

As a poor orphan, Eleanor Courteney figured that she was safe from marriage and would be spending the rest of her life with her friend Belle in the home of the earl of Somerset.  Lord Edmund has bigger plans for her, though, and sends her off to be wed to Robert Morland, the son of a wealthy Yorkshire sheep farmer.  At first deeply unhappy with her father-in-law and new husband, Eleanor soon starts to appreciate her husband and assert her own independence and influence over her household.  When her father-in-law dies, Eleanor virtually takes his place as head of the family.  This family witnesses the events of the close of the Hundred Years’ War, the Wars of the Roses, and Bosworth Field, always on the side of the Yorkists.

The Morland Dynasty is a huge, huge series of books that is still not finished.  Each volume covers a bunch of years in the family’s life and I’m pretty sure they each have a separate story and don’t leave us with cliffhangers.  Or so I hope!  Anyway, as you all know, I’m a fifteenth century England nerd.  I have pretty strong opinions on the history here.  This book, for anyone who is interested, is really a romantic image of Yorkist England.  I was particularly amused by the constant emphasis on Richard, duke of York as a soldier.  Every noble was supposed to be a soldier.  Obviously not everyone was inclined to enjoy martial pursuits but they were supposed to and made an effort to appear soldierly, except maybe Henry VI.  This doesn’t make Richard special.  Also, some outdated history; there’s no chance that the princes in the tower actually made it to Yorkshire, much less were killed by Henry VII.  It’s tremendously unlikely that no one anywhere would have reported their existence in those two years.  The author provided an author’s note in the front of the book with her bibliography list, so I do know just how outdated that history is – I have read every single one of the books in question!  I give her a ton of credit for doing that research, though, and I don’t want to take that away.  It’s just that a lot has changed in the past 30 years.

Okay, on to the book itself.  The prose reminds me of books I used to read when I was a kid, which might make sense because it was written in the 80s.  It has that idealized feel which makes me realize why everyone wants to live in the past.  It’s just lovely in this book.  Even though there are battles and people die in horrific ways, everyone moves on fairly quickly and continues with their happy, usually long  lives.  It’s a nice story, a saga through years of turmoil that still manages to make it all sound rosy.  I don’t know how Harrod-Eagles manages that, but she certainly does.  To be honest, I like it.  It didn’t really bug me that the history was old because this doesn’t really feel like the Middle Ages I know; it’s an idealized period that never actually existed.

I liked the characters, too.  Eleanor is a strong, independent woman.  It’s also interesting to see how she goes from young, impressionable girl to strong, old-fashioned grandmother and head of the family.  I like how the affection between her and her husband grows very slowly over time.  I think it’s a nice example of what might actually happen in arranged marriages.  There are, of course, bad examples of that in this book too, but the initial Morland marriage is the foundation of the entire dynasty.  

I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series.  Maybe this isn’t great, thoughtful reading, but I found it to be very enjoyable.  I would recommend it to those who enjoy historical fiction in particular.

This book is available from Amazon and Amazon UK.


Review: The Apothecary Rose, Candace Robb

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.