I've read lots of the Cadfael series and somehow always ended up disappointed until this final volume. Too many stereotyped characters - the wayward but essentially good young man, the feisty but in the end submissive young woman, the fanatical but misguided monk etc; they pop up in novel after novel, and the overall tone of the series is, to my mind, marred by sentimentality.
But this novel achieves a powerful resonance in its treatment of father-son rivalry, duty and painful separation, and also the conflict between private versus public, religious versus family loyalties. These are important themes very interestingly handled.
I can't help wondering how the author managed to reach these heights only in her final novel. But still: this is easily the best of the series, and is a fine piece of historical fiction.