By Cassandra Clark
Sister Hildegard is a wealthy widow who wants to set up a small religious establishment of her own, and hoping to find somewhere suitable, she toddles off to see her old mate, Lord Roger de Hutton. But this being Yorkshire, there’s trouble at t’ mill when she stumbles across a murder victim, Lord Roger is poisoned, Ada the hot maid is murdered, Sir William kills one of the servants, and there are more shenanigans than there are days in the month. But don’t worry. Hildegard is on the case and manages to solve all the mysteries in the end. Eventually.
Clark has a bit of a mania for medieval jargon for which a glossary needs to have been supplied. But in spite of her familiarity with poulaines, chaperons and double latchets, she seems to be obliviously unaware that no one has spoken Anglo-Saxon in nearly 300 years, although I can’t comment on whether there was still a distinct chasm between the English-speaking peasantry and the French-speaking nobs in the 1380s. As far as I’m aware, that distinction was dying to dead during the reign of Richard II.
The Kindle edition has more than a few typos which should’ve been ironed out, but some of these may be the medieval jargon I mentioned above, which is why a glossary would come in handy.
The story itself progresses from left to right and down the page, punctuated by various incidents and revelations, but with about a sixth of the book left, there is a climactic contest between Hildegard and Escrick Fitzjohn as she and Brother Thomas fight to rescue one of the serving girls and her baby from him. After that, the story then begins to drag. William, Roger’s brother-in-law, has taken control of Hutton Castle and is holding Roger’s young wife, Melisen, hostage. But this episode fizzles out to be followed up by a duel between William and his brother-in-law, Ralph (actually, the cat wins that one), and an attempt by Ralph’s wife Avice to murder Melisen. And if all this wasn’t enough, a small army turns up outside and there’s a joust with a mysterious knight. By that stage, though, I was just turning pages trying to spot the next point at which something was worth paying attention to.
In spite of the book ending like a slow, wounded snake dragging its tale [sic!] along, I think I’ll give the second volume a go.