Monday, 15 December 2008

Medieval Christmas

Medieval artist Giotto's Christmas scene in the Capella degli Scrovegni, Padova, Italy.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Death Comes As Epiphany - Sharan Newman

A medievalist breathes life and vigour into the scholastic debates and religious controversies of 12th-century France in this entrancing mystery debut. Catherine LeVendeur, a young novice and scholar at the Convent of the Paraclete, is sent by the Abbess Heloise on a perilous mission to find out who is trying to destroy the reputation of the convent and, through it, that of the abbess's onetime lover and patron, theologian Peter Abelard. A Psalter created at the convent and given as a gift to the powerful abbot Suger of Saint-Denis is later rumoured to contain heretical statements in its accompanying commentaries. Catherine, in the role of a disgraced novice, must find the book and copy the disputed passages to determine if they are forgeries. Further complicating her search, Saint-Denis's master stonemason, Garnulf, is murdered, a crime which may be tied to the sinister hermit Aleran and the rebuilding of the splendid Abbey of Saint-Denis. Re-entering worldly life, the young novice must face both her sometimes disapproving family and her attraction to Garnulf's mysterious apprentice, Edgar.

There were several things attractive to me in this book, it’s a medieval, it’s a mystery and it features Abelard and Heloise as secondary characters. I was looking forward to see how Newman would develop the story and I wasn’t disappointed.
Catherine Levendeur is a young novice at the Convent of the Paraclete, she isn’t as humble and well behaved as she could be but she believes she has a true vocation as the convent is the only place where she can pursue her studies. The convent seems to be under attack though and the Abbess Heloise asks Catherine to go back home to investigate who is trying to close them down. We get a glimpse of her life in the convent and, after she goes home, of the everyday life in the middle ages, the relationship with god and the divine... Newman doesn’t shy away from showing the good and bad parts of medieval living, not to mention the prejudices against women and other religions. In her quest to discover who falsified a Psalter from the convent Catherine has the help of Edgar, a young man who worked in the construction of the new abbey and has a few secrets to hide. Her relationship with him is interesting and full of tension; both seem a bit unaware at first of what is going on with them.
It’s obvious that Newman has a strong medieval background and can make the story and the characters come alive like no one. While a woman of her time Catherine knows the choices she can make and doesn’t hesitate to change the course of her life and go in search of her happiness even against her family’s wishes. Abelard and Heloise are not a big part of the story but what we get was enough for me to be interested and the setting of medieval France sounded like a breath of fresh air after so many books set in England (not that those are bad of course). Now I’m very interested in knowing what more life has in store for Catherine.

Grade: 4.5/5

Monday, 8 December 2008

THE LANTERN BEARERS by Rosemary Sutcliff

Whenever you read a story written by this author, you know that you will be transported back to the historical period and be able to visualise the events.
This book is set in the period of the last days of the Romans in Britain, and the character,Aquila, a young Roman Officer,has his loyalty challenged (by himself). Does he set said with the Legion or stay in Britain and return to his father and sister.
His decision to remain, leads to his capture by the Saxons, who kill his father and abduct his sister, Flavia. He is held as a Thrall by the Saxons for a few years, and eventually meets up with his sister, who is now married to one of the Saxon chiefs, and has a child.
Flavia helps him escape and he finds his way across the country, and joins with Ambrosius, who wants to unite Britain.
So we are swept along with the events taking place in this era.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Cruel as the Grave ~ Sharon Kay Penman

Justin de Quincy is back again in the 2nd book of this medieval series. Justin is called upon by a friend to solve the murder of a 15-year old Welsh girl Melangell who was killed in the church graveyard. The accused are two brothers who seem to be hiding something are not helpful in solving the mystery of this young girl. The father also seems to be hiding something. Again Justin has his work cut out for him to find a killer and the reason why.

It is April 1193 and Justin is summoned back to court by Eleanor of Aquitaine while Richard the Lionheart sets in a German prison his younger brother John seizes Windsor Castle and the Queen ask Justin to undertake a dangerous mission by asking him to mediate a truce with John. Also, Justin discovers that Claudine de Loudun is with child and she wants to abort the child with special herbs, not sure what to do Justin confides in the Queen, which upsets Claudine. The Queen arranges for Claudine to leave and have the child and home found for the child.

I do not read many mystery's, but the clues that Justin was able to discover and how he unraveled those clues were interesting. Although, not a terrible read was not as good as the first book and I was not impressed with the discovery of the killer. Many of the same characters return in this book, which I enjoyed.

The Queen's Man ~ Sharon Kay Penman

1st Book of the Justin de Quincy Series

New author for me and I am pleased to say I thoroughly enjoyed the story. This is the first book in a series that begins in 1192 with the main character Justin de Quincy who grew up as an orphan and was taught by a high ranking bishop who paid for his education, housing etc. During his search for his mother he discovers the bishop is his father.

Justin sets out to find his fate in the world, when he stumbles upon an ambush where he witnesses a murder. As the goldsmith lies dying he ask Justin to deliver a message to Queen Eleanor. Once he delivers the letter the Queen becomes worried her son King Richard the Lionheart has been missing for a couple of months and her youngest son John is plotting to take over the throne.

Queen Eleanor is impressed with Justin and asks him to identify the killer(s). He gladly accepts the task. Justin returns to the town of the goldsmith to begin his investigation, here he discovers some interesting characters. Who can he really trust?

The book is well written nice quick read, very little romance, nice plot and some twists. I am looking forward to reading the remaining 3 books in the series

~Melanie's List~

I am going for *Royalty* the books I plan to read (or have read)
1. The Queen's Man by Sharon Kay Penman (9/17/08)
2. Cruel As the Grave by Sharon Kay Penman (10/14/08)
3. Dragon's Lair by Sharon Kay Penman (11/30/08)
4. Prince of Darkness by Sharon Kay Penman
5. The Falcons of Montabard or A Place Beyond Courage by Elizabeth Chadwick
6. Undecided

Great challenge.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

HERSELF by Fay Sampson

This is the last book in the series - Daughter of Tintagel

I have to confess to skipping through the pages.
Disappointed in the way this last tale unfolded as it was excerpts from the old history tales, interwoven into the story (as told by Morgan).
Lost the gist of the story line and it seemed to be a rehash of parts from the previous books.
I wonder whether my disappointment stems from the tales we have been fed over the years about Arthur and Merlyn, and also Morgan, which fantasised and glorified these namesakes.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Alex's List

I completely forgot to post my list here but I already started the challenge.:)

After many hesitations I decided to go for Royalty:

- Maid Marian by Elsa Watson
- Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
- Shields of Pride by Elizabeth Chadwick
- Company of Liars by Karen Maitland
- Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph and Frances Gies
- The Illuminator by Brenda Rickman Vantrease

Thanks for organizing this challenge!