Alys Clare's novels are like a breath of fresh air. I love medieval murder mysteries and there are certainly a lot of them about (thank goodness), but the authors books breathe new life into the period and her will they won't they situation with Helewise and Sir Josse, holds the reader's attention as well. Don't be swayed into thinking that these books are written with the female reader in mind. They are for everybody, young and old, male or female.
As the idea began to form in his mind the man smiled. He was a business man, a business man who had been brought to his knees. That is why he had made his way into the forest. He had come all this way for a purpose, to hang himself. But like his wife would have said, had she been there, he didn't even have the guts to do that. He had lain in the wet undergrowth and howled like a baby, but all of that had changed when he made his discovery.
His businessman's brain began to work overtime. There was more than just him who had been beggared by Queen Eleanor's call for all the money that could be raised for the Lionheart's ransom. It was the King's own stupid fault for allowing himself to get caught, he thought to himself. This was certainly a way of making himself rich again. He would need to have some trees chopped down, maybe even put up one or two buildings. It could be done, he knew it could. People who came from a distance would be more than willing to pay for shelter and food for the night. After all, he was offering them a miracle right in front of their eyes. The more he thought about it, the more excited he became. Whatever misgivings he had were soon quashed by his euphoria at the thought of making a great deal of money.
He would be even wealthier than he had been before. That would certainly make his wife happy and when she was happy she allowed him to do things to her that he could only dream of at other times. Surely this could not do any harm, after all it was only a pile of old bones and there was that old saying "The dead can't talk," can they?
First Sentence: In the forest the new season was flourishing.
The Abbess Helewise of Hawkenlye for the future of her Abbey. Much of their revenue comes from alms given by those who visit the Abbey for its healing waters. Now, however, Florian of Southfrith claims to have found the bones of Merlin and pilgrims are visiting there instead. The Abbess asks for the help of her friend Josse d'Acquin first to investigate the truth of his claim and, later, to find out who killed Florian.
Every time I watch an episode of Cadfael, I want to read Alys Clare as they are set in the same period and have a similar feel about them. Fortunately, I have all the books in the Hawkenlye series, so it's an easy craving to satisfy.
Clare establishes a sense of time and place with descriptions that are vivid and evocative. Her dialogue is so well done, it is nearly audible. Her voice is distinctive and memorable; there is no question as to whose book I am reading.
The series need not be read in order as Clare is very good about establishing the back story for the principal characters. At the same time, with each book, I look forward to knowing the characters a bit better and see the relationships between them grow and change. Clare's characters are ones with whom you become involved and invested; you want to know what will happen but in the way of friends rather than a soap-opera manner.
The story is a well-done blending of history and the "real" world with mythology and the magical world, including a very credible explanation for the legends of Merlin and King Arthur. I appreciated Josse's skepticism of the bones found at Glastonbury being those of King Arthur and Guinevere, but it also served as a reminder of just how old is England's history. Josse and the Abbess are firmly rooted in the real, yet accept the possibility of things for which there is no explanation whether from the old religion of the new. Joanna represents the old religion yet acknowledges non-mystical explanations for some things which occur. It is this extremely well-done balance which prevents the story from floating completely into the space of the paranormal.
Most of all, what draws me back, book-after-book, is the well-plotted mystery and just a cracking good story with a very interesting revelation. I'm ready for my next visit to Hawkenlye.
THE ENCHANTER'S FOREST (Hist Mys/Josse d'Acquin/Abbess Helewise/England-1195) - VG
Clare, Alys - 10th in series
Hodder & Stoughton, UK Hardcover, ©2007 - ISBN: 9780340923856
on 24 January 2013
Alys Clare was recomended by a house-guest after seeing the contents my home bookcases and I am so glad she did - what a find. The story captivated me from the begining and is well-written, very visual and just occasionally rather "spooky". I loved the medieval sleuths and am only sorry that the first few books in the series are out of print (other than Kindle) so I have no idea how they got together, although this does not spoil the story in any way.