This is a good little book if you don’t overload it with expectations. It’s a brief overview of medieval cuisine, with additional introductory material about tool, ovens, ingredients, and recipes. It serves as a quick overview of the subject and is a fine introduction to the subject. At 44 pages, it can be read at one setting. I enjoyed it very much. It reminds me of several of the pamphlets available through the Society for Creative Anachronism.
I had the pleasure of meeting Priscilla Royal at a Historical Novel Society conference in San Diego some years ago, and have been reading her books ever since. I misheard her name as Princess Royal and wondered who in the world would saddle a girl child with that name, and the answer, of course, is no one. But what better name could there be for a writer of historical fiction?
And a very good one she is. This is the fourteenth novel in her series about the prioress of Tyndal Priory, a dual (men and women) foundation and her monk Thomas. We are long past the struggles of Prioress Eleanor with her feeling for Brother Thomas, and Brother Thomas’ feelings for men. They have settled in their skins with who and what they are, and the reader can settle back and enjoy a perfectly good mystery.
This one is interesting because Prioress Eleanor is kept captive in her cell by a sprained ankle. Unable to move around and gather evidence for herself, she has to depend on information brought to her by her subordinates. The former prioress of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem has been accused of murdering a woman and has not denied it. She remains imprisoned awaiting sentencing by the Hospitaller Prior of England.
It is fun to see Prioress Eleanor’s quick wits work at second hand, as she gathers information and directs the investigative work of Brother Thomas and Sister Anne, her infirmarian, until the real killer is unmasked.
In this, the eleventh of the chronicles, Brother Cadfael has two mysteries on his hands. Who are the two mysterious monks, one dying, one a mute, who have turned up at Shrewsbury Abbey. Second, what happened to a young woman who set out to try her vocation at a nearby convent, accompanied by several men at arms for protection, but never arrived? As usual, the resourceful monk is assisted in his inquiries by the steadfast sheriff, Hugh Beringer, as he untangles both the mysteries.
I buy the Brother Cadfael books when they are on sale for $1.99 because I don’t think they are worth much more than this. There is the usual lovesick couple he helps to put together, and the hours spent sipping from his private stock of wine in his workshop. The problem is that I have been spoiled by Margaret Frazer’s Dame Frevisse/Joliffe the Player novels. I compare all the other medieval murder mysteries to them, and none measure up. For them, I pay full price and begrudge not one cent.
The usual: someone unlikable is killed, someone who isn’t who he pretends to be is suspected and it’s up Brother Cadfael to work with Sheriff Hugh Beringer to see that the innocent escape punishment, and a killer is brought to justice.