Young Janna lives in a tiny cottage on the edge of the forest with her mother Eadgyth, the village herbwife. But twelfth century England is a dangerous time to be a woman and a healer, and the oppressive influence of the new priest and the jealous male apothecary can be felt throughout. When Eadgyth dies suddenly, Janna suspects her mother has been poisoned, and vows to find the killer and avenge her death. But the villagers and the Church are set against her, superstition and fear has warped the small community, and several people have explosive secrets they'll kill to protect. As Janna tries to unravel the mystery of her mother's death and the identity of her mysterious father, she realises that her own life is in danger, and her quest becomes more desperate.
Although I had never considered these to be crime novels, Janna does have to solve a murder and several other mysteries, and reveals great detective skills. The writing is suspenseful and the plot twists intriguing, yet it is not limited the crime genre - it is also a beautifully written story of Janna's coming of age, there are elements of romance, action and medieval English history woven in (some teachers even use it as part of the curriculum), and fascinating characters that are archetypally powerful - the healer, the maiden, the crone, the protector, the innocent, the villain - as well as totally engaging and true to life. I especially love the descriptions of English life in this period, the clash between the Old Ways and the Church, and the magical properties of the herbs that the wise woman and her daughter work with to heal people and protect their community. (Anyone who loves Juliet Marillier's beautiful books will love the enchantment of these.)
And Janna is a wonderful heroine. Not perfect by any means - she's hot headed and hot tempered, speaks before she thinks and is so stubbornly independent that it's often to her detriment. But she is kind too, and fiercely intelligent, with a thirst for knowledge and justice that compels her to leave all that she's ever known to set off on the quest that will unfold over the next five books - to avenge her mother's death, find her father, and discover her own heart... Each of the Janna Mysteries ends with the solving of an epic mystery - along with more questions, so you are left desperate to start reading the next one (even now, as I re-read them all)...
Although it's many years since I was a "young adult", this series will appeal to anyone who loves adventure stories with mystery, historical weight and a magical twist.