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review 2017-11-30 15:57
Music of the Distant Stars
Music of the Distant Stars - Alys Clare

England, the 1080s


The singer watched as the young girl with the copper-coloured hair and the boyish figure wrested open the door of the little house and disappeared inside. You hear me, don't you, lass? he thought. You listen to my song and you go rigid as you perceive my pain. You have a good heart and I'm sorry that I frighten you.

He heard footsteps on the path: a quick, light step that he recognized as belonging to the older woman who lived in the little house. He slipped back into his hiding place and watched as she hurried up to the door and let herself in. She was a healer; his sense of smell was strong, and he could detect her profession from the scent of her clothes, as he could from those of the copper-haired girl. The house itself smelt of clean, fresh things: of herbvs and fresh-cut grass. He liked the smell. He liked being close to the house. It gave him comfort, of a sort.

But there was no real comfort, not any more. His world had come to an end. He was alone, away from the place he had known all his life. He felt the great surge of anguish rise up in him, and a few notes of his song emerged from his lips. As if the music lanced his pain, for a few moments it eased.

Music. There was always the music.


This is the third of the Aelf Fen Mysteries featuring the healer Lassair and written by Alys Clare, the author of the perhaps better-known Hawkenlye novels. The Aelf Fen Mysteries are set in a slightly earlier period than those, soon after the Norman Conquest when the victors of Hastings were still hated strangers in the land. Two of Lassaire's uncles had died at Hastings, as had the fathers, husbands, brothers and sons of much of the population – a thing not easily forgotten or forgiven.


Lassair is a seventeen-year-old apprentice healer, whose family live in the Fenland village of Aelf Fen, though she herself now lives and studies with her aunt, the local wise woman, herbalist, midwife and – whisper it! – witch.


At dawn one midsummer morning, Lassair sets out for the community's burial island, sent by her aunt to put a fresh flower garland on the stone slab that covered the grave of her recently deceased grandmother, Cordeilla. She also has with her the symbols of earth, air, fire and water intended to summon spirits to help her in her prayers. It is still dark, but Lassair has no trouble finding the path through the treacherous swamps and bogs, for she is a dowser who can "see hidden tracks and pathways that are all but invisible to others." She is very sensitive. She is also very superstitious.


Suddenly my feet seemed to freeze to the ground and I could not move. I stood on the narrow path, my heart thumping so hard it hurt. [...] The path still glowed faintly, but on either side the land was clothed in its thick-leafed summer foliage, providing far too many places where someone bent on harming me could hide.

I was not afraid of ill-intentioned humans, however. The entities I dreaded had no need of hiding places, for they were, I was quite sure, perfectly capable of invisibility. They could creep up me without my suspecting a thing, and the first I would know was when icy fingers clutched at my throat and supernaturally strong arms thrust my head down into the black waters till I drwoned and went to join their grey, shimmering company ...

With a great effort, I commanded myself not to be so fanciful and cowardly.


Teeth chattering with fear, she makes way way across onto the island, only to discover that someone has moved the slab of stone. And peering in, that there are now two bodies in the grave.


Whoever moved the slab of stone put that other body in there, she realises. And that person wanted to conceal the body. That person was a murderer!


This is all too much for her, and she goes racing back to her aunt.


The dead body turns out to be that of a pregnant girl much the same age as Lassair herself. Her name was Ida, and she was seamstress to a rather unpleasant Norman lady. It also turns out that that Norman lady's fiancé, Sir Alain, was rather fonder of Ida that he was was of the Norman lady. Was he the murderer? No one could possibly suggest it, for not only was he a Norman, but he was the local justiciar. And anyway, Lassair rather likes him.


No, the chief suspect seems to be a certain Derman, the village idiot, who "looks like a gargoyle and frightens little children", but himself has the mind of a child. And Derman is the brother of the gorgeous Zarina, whom Lassair's own brother, Haward, plans to marry. Only Zarina won't marry him because, she says, she will not impose her brother on him. So wouldn't it suit Haward very well for Derman to be found guilty of the murder? – or so some people can't help wondering.


But who is the "invisible singer", a minstrel who seems to have been in love with the dead girl? He is surely unlikely to have been the murderer, but he could have been the father of her unborn baby.


All very complicated – and full not only of the magic and mystery we have come to expect from this very special author, but of a love of, and knowledge of, the English countryside that is, in my experience, quite unique among medieval mystery writers.

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review 2017-06-21 14:37
The King's Hounds by Martin Jensen
The King's Hounds (The King's Hounds series) - Martin Jensen
This was a fun, easy to listen to audiobook mystery. Some annoying anachronistic words were sprinkled throughout, but I assumed that was due to it being a translation and was forgiving regarding them.

The mystery, which our lovable protagonists have no good reason to be in charge of solving, involves the murder of a nobleman just as Cnut is gathering them to confirm his kingship. How inconvenient. The unlikely pair find their way into plenty of trouble, prove their womanizing skills, and even solve the murder. It is all a bit meandering but in good fun. This isn't a edge of your seat suspense novel, but an enjoyable diversion.

The skilled narrator bumped up the rating on this for me. Considering it is free through Kindle Unlimited, this is a worthwhile selection.
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review 2016-08-24 15:00
The Northern Queen by Kelly Evans
The Northern Queen - Kelly Evans

I started reading this book and was somewhat confused. Aelfgifu? Isn't that Canute's harridan wife from the north who tries to ruin everything for Emma? How can she be enjoying a romantic moment with her husband or - heaven forbid! Making Emma out to be the evil one?


This unique perspective on King Canute's rival wives may have thrown me for a loop after reading so many positive portrayals of Emma, but that is also exactly what I love about historical fiction. Just as Richard III was made a hero in Sunne in Splendour or Thomas Cromwell made to shine in Wolf Hall, Aelfgifu is a heroine we can feel empathy for in Evans' Northern Queen.


I'm glad that I read this book, because, though I try to keep in mind that we don't know all that we think we do about historical figures, Aelfgifu is one whom I have never considered another side of. The idea that she may have truly loved Canute never really crossed my mind. Any time I am forced to reevaluate my perspective and peer into another possible view of history, I am grateful.


Aelfgifu's role keeps her on the sidelines of events, which makes her story one of a woman who thought to be queen but in reality is a woman often left waiting to hear news from others. This is a difficult way to write while keeping the story moving along, and Evans does an admirable job of it.


If you've ever wanted to see Emma's power struggle from the other side, this is the book for you.

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review 2016-08-18 14:06
Heretics of De'Ath by Howard of Warwick
The Heretics of De'Ath (Chronicles of Brother Hermitage) - Howard of Warwick

I gave this another shot but am giving up at 41%. This book is a light, humorous read rather than a true historical mystery. It sounds sort of like something by Mel Brooks, complete with anachronisms, irreverence, and less than intelligent characters. I thought maybe if I was in the right mood.....but no. Life is too short and I'm moving on.




I received this book from NetGalley.

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text 2016-08-11 13:29
Update: 36% and setting it aside
The Heretics of De'Ath (Chronicles of Brother Hermitage) - Howard of Warwick

I need to stop being such a sucker for anything with illumination on the cover. (Note to self: this seems effective. Consider illumination as theme for next set of book covers.)


This is more of a parody of a medieval mystery with not a singe devout soul to be found in the entire monastery. I'll admit that at first I found some of the irreverent, and often anachronistic, humor entertaining, but I'm struggling with getting through an entire book of it.


For example, I liked these passages:


Old St Peter and Paul in Bailgate had been visited as a ruin for so long that many suspected it had been built as a ruin in the first place, simply to attract visitors. The new church, however - new because it had only been there for a couple of hundred years - had been doing its best to fall down ever since it had been put up.




At one point the thoroughfare of Ermine Street disappeared completely. All of the stone had been removed and there was nothing left but a large pit, full of disturbingly green, deep-looking water. A fairly substantial dwelling stood off to the right just here, down a track of its own. The track was very well maintained and, upon close examination, the dwelling looked rather like a Roman road, only stacked up with windows in it.


Unfortunately, the portrayal of all monks as thoroughly evil or too stupid to achieve even that status is wearying. The murder investigation, such as it is, does not hold much promise, and unless Brother Hermitage pulls a Columbo style twist, he's not solving anything....at least not on purpose.


I'll finish this when I need a light read, but for now I cannot bear one more 'Cheerio' said in 1066.

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