This book stands alone and works well as a one-off, even though the characters are part of a much larger series. Certain plotlines (Brother Thomas’s homosexuality, Prioress’s Eleanor’s move to Tyndal) are mentioned in this installment but are not fully explored; those seeking in-depth backstories may want to start at the series’ beginning. In the first half of this volume, well-developed character studies of village residents get almost as much focus as the mystery, with complex characterization. The second half is lean and quick-moving, more focused on the murder.
The novel’s real triumph is Royal’s steadfast commitment to remaining true to period while crafting dialogue and prose that feel at home in both the 21st century and the 13th. The characters have modern sensibilities, but never don’t seem out of place in the society in which they live. History buffs will appreciate the attention to detail. Readers who are less familiar with medieval history may want to familiarize themselves with some of the basic customs of the time, but the book includes enough context to remain enjoyable for those who are new to the genre. This well-balanced novel, with its blend of fact, fiction, and thrills, will pique readers’ interest in the village and its denizens.
Takeaway: This period thriller will appeal to medieval history buffs and those who like their murder mysteries set in a well-developed context.
Great for fans of: Bernard Knight’s Crowner John series, Ellis Peters’s A Morbid Taste for Bones.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-