A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
One of the periods I like to read about most is the Middle Ages. No, not that time in your forties when you’re no longer young, but don’t yet qualify for senior discounts; I mean the Medieval era. There is so much mystery surrounding those centuries, yet we know that society was quite rigid, that the Black Plague was always lurking and the Catholic Church wielded great power in nations’ and citizen’s lives. Compared to the Renaissance, things were static, but there was an undercurrent of potential change.
Perfectly exemplifying all of this is Candace Robb’s series set in the mid-1300’s featuring Owen Archer, formerly Captain of the King’s longbowmen. He lost an eye in a fight and is now a reluctant spy for The Chancellor. He goes undercover as an apprentice with Lucie Wilton, a widow who inherited her husband’s shop in York. Both of them bring their skills and intelligence to solving the mysteries in each book.The secondary characters are just as richly drawn, Magda the Riverwoman, midwife and healer who lives in a refurbished Viking boat. Energetic Bess and her husband, Tom, who runs the tavern next door to the apothecary shop and who brings humor and gossip into her friend’s lives. Even the household cats have distinct personalities.
The author, who has long studied the period, brings everyday details to her stories and shows how people of all levels of society lived and interacted with each other. It’s also points in her favor that she made her main character a cyclops and he’s not even a pirate.
Along with learning about trade, festivals and the risky business of travel in that era, Lucie’s shop provides a window into the limits of medical knowledge at the time. Most medicine was made from herbs and often had very little effect on the illnesses they were to treat. Then there were the contagions which would sweep through towns, not only the plagues, but various fevers, whose origins were not understood. So panic and superstition would overtake a population desperate to remain healthy.
Though Owen is the central character, he is surrounded by strong women. Even Queen Phillippa and King Edward’s mistress, Alice Perrers, were quite formidable in different ways. Lucie has more rights as a widow than she did as a wife, her profession and property are now her own. The eccentric Magda is full of wisdom and likable for all of her oddness.
There’s still a few more books in the series for me to read and I’m looking forward to it. As you can tell, I enjoy these mysteries very much and can’t recommend them highly enough.