Clark, Cassandra - 'The Law of Angels'
This novel, the third in a series subtitled an Abbess of Meaux Mystery, is set in the hot sticky Summer of the year 1384, when England is being ruled by John of Gaunt acting on behalf of Richard the Second, who is only 17 years of age. Half the population of Europe has been destroyed by the plague, "The Black Death", a pestilence brought on by floods followed by a deadly famine.
Hildegard of Meaux, an abbess of the powerful Cistercian Order, has found a refuge from the world of violence and blood-feuds (as described in the previous titles). But by offering her peaceful sanctuary to a bonded maid with a friend, she upsets a very dangerous enemy, a hooded knight, who with his accomplices, thinks nothing of destroying her little house to achieve his own ends. Hildegard is a young and wealthy widow, with her husband missing-presumed dead in France eight years before. Educated and seeking to be independent, she has chosen the life of a nun. Not only can she put her wealth to good use, but it is also the path to political influence and personal power.
After the renegade knights have left, Hildegard tells her assistants to leave at once with her and walk to York. When they arrive after a long and arduous journey, her group enters the walled city to discover the people are preparing for the feast day of Corpus Christe. As all England was Catholic at that time, it was customary for the population to celebrate religious festivals, very joyously with play acting, feasts and general good natured revelry, similar to the fiestas enjoyed in present day Spain. Consequently, a lot of people are entering the city in the week leading up to this and as a result all the inns are full up and accommodation is very scarce.
After some difficulty they obtain a very basic room in a convent in which to sleep. Hildegard makes contact with old friends she knows in York and uses couriers to send messages to Her Mother Superior, some distance away, as she is worried about the attack on her home and the possibility of further problems. In a previous book Hildegard had to journey across Europe to obtain a very old cross that had a particular relevance as a religious relic and she has been keeping it secure, with great difficulty in view of her present circumstances. Ultimately, it should be returned to her Mother Superior. At one point in the story she is travelling with the cross and she is attacked and it is stolen. After very many exciting adventures and several murders the book reaches a satisfying conclusion.
I found this really engrossing storyline a real joy to read. The brilliantly researched historical background really transports you back into the fourteenth century. The author uses some technical words from the period to really add to the gripping atmospheric detail (but regrettably there isn't a glossary at the back as in her previous books so I used Google). I did not want this book to end, it was such a fascinating historical page turner. May this author write many more novels of this high quality in the future.
Terry Halligan, England