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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 6 August 2011
I love historical novels, especially ones with mystery, murder and a journey thrown in. It's a long wait between CJ Sansom's books, and, very sadly, Ariana Franklin has died, so I was quite excited to come across this.
But it turned out to be a very frustrating and bewildering read. I have to admit that I haven't read the first one, Hangman Blind (Abbess of Meaux Mystery 1), but I firmly believe that any book worth its salt should be able to stand alone. This author assumes rather too much about her readers' knowledge of the characters, both fictional and real, and the period - if you don't already know about the politics of Richard II's England, you might feel a bit lost and alienated in this world.
It's a very choppy narrative, you hop from Yorkshire, to the Alps, to Italy and back again, and nothing is linked together. New characters pop up everywhere, sometimes with a big build-up (like the sinister Italian countess), only to simply disappear again for no particular reason. Some of the relationships are downright weird - I never understood what exactly Hildegard felt for the strange minstrel Pierrekyn, for instance.
I found Hildegard to be a very unsatisfactory heroine altogether. Compare her to a similar sort of character, Ariana Franklin's Adelia, to see what I mean. Unlike Adelia, it's hard to root for Hildegard or even visualise her, and I kept losing sight of why her life was in such danger all the time. And it's not a good sign when you have to re-read the ending twice, to work out the significance of what's just happened.
In short, this book fails the plot test. It's basically just a murder mystery, so you should be able to stop reading on any page, confident that you know what the point of the whole thing is (I'm afraid it's that word macguffin again). No matter how intricate or far-fetched the story, if you feel you understand the protagonist and what they're trying to find, solve, prevent, escape from, or whatever, then it works. For me, this one didn't.
Maybe I'll leave it a few months and try again. In the meantime, I'll write this one off as another disappointment and re-read Ariana Franklin's The Assassin's Prayer: Mistress of the Art of Death 4 instead, to remind myself of how it should be done.
(Just one final bit of nitpicking, and maybe it's just a personal bugbear of mine, but I wish book designers would do a bit more research - how hard can it be these days, with the internet at your fingertips? Because if that's meant to be Hildegard on the cover, why is she wearing what looks like a bright blue velvet crinoline?)
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 17 June 2011
I was intrigued by the blurb of this novel, but I have to confess my expectations were disappointed. As a character, Hildegard seems somewhat lacking. She's nice, and shows courage when required, but...more of an automaton than a human being. She's perhaps a little too good, a little too much the victim of circumstance. I don't rightly know why an assassin would bother trailing halfway across Europe after her. Despite having not one but three admirers in the book, she seems oblivious to all of it. And it would undoubtedly have helped if I'd read the first book in the series, because the number of characters introduced towards the end becomes bewildering. I could forgive that if it weren't for a meandering plot with a fizzer of an ending. One minute Hildegard's going to Rome, then the next she gets a letter telling her it's Florence, with no explanation. Sidelines go absolutely nowhere. What of Pierrekyn's antecedents? Who the hell is the shadowy Countess in Florence? She seems like a major player, only to make a brief and ultimately toothless cameo. And virtually everybody takes a turn as the possible murderer, throwing out threatening and elliptical comments for no apparent reason, simply to add to the atmosphere of menace. A bit more about the cross, the supposed crux - aha - of the story, would have been nice too.

In my estimation there are far better medieval murder mysteries out there, including Ariana Franklin, 'Death and the Devil' by Frank Schatzing, and (getting into Tudor times) C J Sansom. But it's early days for Hildegard, and maybe future books will improve.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 1 April 2009
Ms Clarke certainly knows her stuff.
If you thought Hangman blind was good, read this next one in the Trilogy.
It really takes you into the world of intrigue and dark mystery of Medieval times.
Such wonderful descriptions of life at the time of the Political turmoils of the reign of Richard the second.
A thoroughly good and exciting read!
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on 22 July 2013
Following on from the Hangman Blind, this novel picks up the story of Hildegard the Abbess of Meaux. In this novel she is charged with travelling to Florence to collect a valuable artefact but the plot revolves around the aftermath of the Peasants' Revolt. Populated by real and imagined characters, the speed of the narrative is exhilarating and this is a really satisfying read. There is no doubt that Clark wearing her learning lightly but the depth of knowledge and background is what makes these books far more than the superficial historical romances that populate the supermarket bookshelves.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 26 April 2009
Having read the first book, I bought the second as soon as I saw that it was published and found it a thoroughly enjoyable read. As well as the mystery element, I very much like the feeling of history and what it was like to be alive in that period. I shall be eagerly awaiting the next installment.
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on 15 November 2013
I really good novel, focusing more on what was in the turnshoe and the political ramifications. My copy was previously used, and contrary to what the seller proclaimed, it did have a damaged spine, but that did not detract from my enjoyment of the book.

I think it is a shame however that the latest is still only available in Kindle. I prefer books and am not willing to shell out over £150 plus the price of the book for just one purchase.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 1 June 2009
The second novel in a series. This novel is an excellently researched, fast moving narrative which is well written. I hope Cassandra Clark is well advanced with another episode.
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on 23 November 2014
I always read these books too fast, the actual stories are only ok, but the sense of place is terrific.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 7 March 2010
Loved the previous book by this author and so bought this one too.Haven't been disappointed so far although i am only half way through the book at the moment.It's a nice,old-fashioned,gentle murder mystery, if you can have any such thing,(i see the main character as a medieval Miss Marple of sorts.)Won't say any more as wouldn't want to spoil it for anyone that wants to read it for themselves.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 January 2012
A nice little book is this. A gentle read and the period is well documented. I bought the writer's first book, and will now go on to buy her third in this series. Perfect stuff before lights out! Well done again, Cassandra!
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