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The Uncivil Affects of a Civil War
on 22 October 2014
‘The Virgin in the Ice’ is the sixth Cadfael chronicle, written by Ellis Peters in 1982. If the civil war between Stephen and Matilda (here described as “cousins most uncousinly”) was barely mentioned in the fifth, here it marks its presence in the very first sentence. It’s now November 1139 and Matilda’s forces have pushed up the Severn valley to Worcester from their base in Gloucester.
Cadfael’s journey in this episode takes him south, away from Shrewsbury and towards the scene of trouble; not as far as Worcester, but still within the county – to Bromfield and Ludlow, where some refugees from the fighting have fled. Amongst them are some important children. This chronicle thus has a change of scene in both geography as well as plot, but it is still (alas) young love that is at the core. At one point a young lady is in a monk’s garb whilst in the priory at Bromfield. Purlease!
One of the benefits of reading Cadfael’s adventures is his not generally being tainted with Manichaeism, but here Cadfael himself asserts in conversation with Hugh Beringar, the deputy sheriff, that “I do not believe that evil and good can be so dismally plaited together that they cannot be disentangled.”
As usual, come the end, all is well that ends well. Young people learn and grow, young love is sanctified, and the villains meet their rightful rewards. Yawn. Oh, and Cadfael himself has a shock from his past in the Holy Land, but to find out what that is, you’ll have to read the book.
This is not, IMHO, one of the better chronicles. Thankfully matters improve …