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on 20 June 2000
We all have to pay for our sins, and as all mortal beings seem to have a few of our own, it should come as no surprise that Brother Cadfael feels he must pay penance for his, as well. And in this 20th (and final) chronicle of Brother Cadfael, Ellis Peters takes us a giant step forward in her characterization of the good Benedictine monk, a man once a member of the Crusades and now wrestling against sin behind the cloth.
In "Brother Cadfael's Penance," Peters permits Cadfael to come face to face with another aspect of his life--a time before his monastic vows. It is 1145 and the great civil war rages on between King Stephen and Empress Maud. However, there is hope. A meeting between the two factions is scheduled for Coventry and Brother Cadfael secures permission from the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Shrewsbury to attend. Known widely for his skills in diplomacy, as well as crime solving abilities, Cadfael, however, wishes to attend for a very personal reason. He is seeking news of a young knight, Olivier de Bretagne. Olivier is Cadfael's son, from his days fighting in the Holy Land as a crusader. His holy vows aside, he feels he must do all within his power to save his son.
Peters, as always, presents Cadfael as more than human--she gives us a man for all seasons, as it were. In addition, she presents the good brother in a realistic but incredibly humane manner. He is a man whom we can love, respect, yes, even
cherish. Peters' ability to draw out these characteristics is perhaps what makes the series so fascinating. Hers is a series not to be missed. One probably should read them in the order they were written; or at least, read earlier ones before this one, as the poignancy of the meeting between father and son is so much more dramatized when the reader has the background to appreciate such a climactic episode. I cannot imagine a reader being disappointed!
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on 18 July 2011
After years of following the ubiquitous Brother Cadfael through his life in and around the Abbey of St Peter and St Paul, Shrewsbury, in the turbulent times of the English Anarchy where anointed king fights former king's chosen heir for the throne, we come to our last glimpse of this wonderful character in penitent/hero mode.

As a glimmer of hope for a settlement to the long drawn-out civil war flickers on the horizon, Cadfael is thrown into a quandary between his vows and his fatherhood when he discovers that his precious son Olivier, all that remains of an adventurous secular life, has been taken prisoner in the latest siege. He is given leave to attend the talks with long-time friend and sheriff Hugh Beringar and see what he can discover of his son's whereabouts, but thereafter, has to make the extremely difficult choice of whether to pursue the hunt for Olivier or return as bidden to his abbey.
Then, as always, another problem pokes its prickly head into Cadfael's side - the murder of a 'turncoat' and the accusation for his death laid on Olivier's brother-in-law and acquaintance of Cadfael and Hugh, Yves Hugonin (known to readers from a previous tale, the 'Virgin in the Ice'). It's up to the brilliant, caring and penitent monk to try to solve the murder and save not only his son but the impetuous boy who was pursuing the same task before he became entangled with death.

'Brother Cadfael's Penance' is a great, fitting end to this wonderfully rich, re-readable series. If I could venture with one slight thorn in a sweet-smelling rose, it would be that for a chunk of the book, the story does become more quest in a wartorn England rather than a mystery, but to be honest, the story is so good (as always with Ellis Peters) that you can forgive that, and just enjoy it anyway. And the ending, for me, is just right.
Read, enjoy and then start back at the beginning of the series... I wish I had written them. Great stuff.
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on 20 May 2016
I had pretty much forgotten what little I ever knew about the English Civil War between King Stephen and Empress Maud - round about 1150AD. Brother Cadfael is a monk in Shrewsbury, sent as an observer to an ill-fated peace conference between the warring parties. There is a significant amount of ill-will, resulting in a fatal stabbing, with a young knight unjustly accused. One cause of the ill-will is missing knight Olivier de Bretagne, who turns out to be the son of Cadfael from a pre-monastic existence as a crusader.

This is book 20 in the series so I am sure that I have missed a lot by starting at the end. It wasn't a book that I greatly enjoyed. I found the language stilted, the action sluggish. Much of what happens takes place "off-screen", and is reported second hand to Cadfael, which is perhaps not surprising as an elderly monk would probably not be in the thick of battle.

Cadfael of course is the great interest here. Well, he would not have survived 20 novels were it not so. A monk, an apothecary, a crusader, and a detective - although there isn't a great deal of detecting done in this story.
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on 26 October 1999
I am a great Cadfael fan and this book is one of my absolute favorites. What I like most about this book is that it is (as well as "Dead Man's Ransom") about true frienship. It's about loyalty to a friend although each friend is on completely different sides and has been deeply hurt by the other because of chosing a different path. The difficult choice Brother Cadfael has to make and which may change his life, when he decides to look for his son without his abbot's conscent because he will not put his love to God above his love for his son, is also a very touching and interesting aspect. Altogether this book combines all the things I like about the Cadfael chronicles and I really regret that it is the very last one of them.
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on 18 July 2015
Many of the Brother Cadfael books I have read have whimsical tone to them, perhaps a cross between Jeeves and Blandings. This book is a really "full English" ripping yarn. The historical background, although "background" puts the reader right slap bang in the 12th century. The tale of treachery and murder is in itself timeless, but give a rare insight into a turbulent period of English history. I found it a great read and would thoroughly recommend it.
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on 6 November 2015
As usual a fascinating story, this time about Cadfael wishing to see his illegitimate son at least one more time before age finally takes its toll.
King Stephen and Empress Maud are up to their usual tricks as are their liegemen and allies. The range is quite a way from Shrewsbury with descriptions of castles and townships and other abbeys. An excellent read!
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on 5 June 2016
What suspense! As a culmination of the previous Cadfael stories, this is outstanding. I barely had time to take a breath as the excitement held me spellbound until the very, very last sentence of this so wonderful story.
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on 23 September 2015
I have enjoyed many Caddfael books, but this is definitely one of the best. The usual beautiful writing style and atmospheric settng, but this one is more reflective, more emotional than some of the others. Even if you haven't read them all, don't miss this one!
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on 17 April 1998
I have read every one of these wonderful books, and have delighted in the storylines, the history of the times and the fully developed characters. This book is another great volumn in the series.
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on 26 October 1999
I am a great Cadfael fan and this book is one of my absolute favorites. What I like most about this book is that it is (as well as "Dead Man's Ransom") about true frienship. It's about loyalty to a friend although each friend is on completely different sides and has been deeply hurt by the other because of chosing a different path. The difficult choice Brother Cadfael has to make and which may change his life, when he dedides to look for his son without his abbot's conscent because he will not put his love to God above his love for his son, is also a very touching and interesting aspect. Altogether this book combines all the things I like about the Cadfael chronicles, and I really regret that it is the very last one of them.
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