Author: Cassandra Clark, 2008
Genre: Historical Fiction. Murder Mystery.
Other Details: Hardback. 314 pages.
November, 1382. The month of the dead. At the Feast of St. Martin in the fifth year of King Richard's reign, a nun rides out for York and the Abbey of Meaux. But this is no ordinary journey. Rival popes, a boy on the English throne and a volatile peace in the savage aftermath of Wat Tyler's murder. Travelling alone, Hildegaard encounters a gibbet with five bloodied crow-stripped corpses, and later the body of a youth, brutally butchered. Who is he? And what is his connection to the hanged men?
Murder will touch Hildegaard and those she loves even more closely as she rides on to her childhood home. Castle Hutton is riven by treachery. Old loyalties are shifting. Hildegaard will need all her courage to counter the dark forces in the land. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.
I enjoyed this novel set in 14th Century Yorkshire and took a liking to its main character, Hildegaard, a recently widowed woman who has become a Cistercian nun and decided to use the legacy left to her by her husband to found a small convent. Her quest to find a suitable location draws her into the complexity of the relationships at her childhood home. I was a unclear as to who, if anyone, she was related to as she was addressed as 'sister' but I assumed this was due to her being a nun. I expect that her relationship to other characters will become clarified in later books.
I felt the Yorkshire setting and the historical period were well realised and there was plenty of information about the events happening in the wider world such as the Peasant's Revolt of 1381 and its aftermath.
Yet despite my enjoyment I did feel that the story lacked something; it felt somewhat unfocused. There is a delicate balance between writing crime/mystery and writing with a sense of authenticity for a historical period. Still given this was Clark's first novel she may well have still been finding her feet. Her publisher obviously has confidence in her as the series has continued on through Book 5 to date. The character of Hildegaard and the period intrigues me enough that I'll likely read more in the series in due course.
Cassandra Clark's website - background on the novels.