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Chatter of the Maidens Chatter of the Maidens tells how, in April , Hawkenlye Abbey is profoundly disturbed by the arrival of a new nun, Sister Alba and her two much younger sisters, Meriel, aged 16 and Berthe, aged Recently orphaned Alba explains that she had to leave her convent at Ely to look after her sisters. She says she came to Hawkenlye because "she had heard tell of the miraculous shrine of Our Lady But she soon makes herself highly unpopular all round, and, after lying to Helewise, literally hits out at her. So she has to be locked up in the abbey's punishment cell. Meanwhile, Sir Josse has been taken seriously ill with blood poisoning, and is carried to the abbey for treatment.

Then a dead body is discovered and Sister Alba escapes from her cell. Helewise, feeling it is her responsibility to find out more about Alba's background, sets out on a long and dangerous journey to Ely and the surrounding fen country, where she visits a lonely, desolate convent with only four nuns left. The abbess there tells her, "We receive few visitors, as you will readily understand. Those who do persevere through the marsh, the mists and the biting flies all say the same thing.

How do we cope with living out here? We always say the same words, That God has called us to this lonely, desolate place in order that His precious light shall illuminate the darkness, and that when He calls, we obey". It is here that Helewise discovers there is much more to Alba's background than she could ever have supposed. It makes for an engrossing story with plenty of action. It's all written with a gentle sense of humour, as when an embarrassed Josse finds himself trying to explain the Immaculate Conception to inquisitive year-old Berthe, or when Helewise, unused to riding long distances, arrives at a small convent for her first overnight stay and realises that "it wasn't going to be easy to be dignified, when the only way she could walk was with her legs bowed out wide enough to circle a beer barrel".

In this story it is Helewise who gets out and about, and Josse who has to be left back at the abbey, trying to work things out. As he modestly points out, "The Abbess is the brains, I am merely the brawn On this occasion, I fear she had to be both brain and brawn". As another character tells them, they make a good team. Even so, they do not always agree about everything.

Helewise is shocked when she and Josse come across two teenagers, one of them her charge, young Meriel, making love, but Josse "saw them again in his mind's eye, that handsome. There was love, right enough, he thought". But Helewise could only grunt, "Humph! It makes an enjoyable story. The Faithful Dead The Faithful Dead begins in the autumn of with the death of an elderly pilgrim, followed by the discovery of the decomposing body of a naked young man, killed by an expert hand. Meanwhile Prince John, together with his seer John Dee, known as the Magister, is trying to track down one Galbertius Sidonius who, it turns out, is looking for Josse.

This all makes a gripping start, but then there is a very long over long flashback to Outremer a large area including the present-day Israel and Lebanon back in this unfortunately takes up as much as a third of the book which explains how Josse's father had been fighting in the Crusades when he had been given a magnificent jewel, the Eye of Jerusalem, that had magical protective and healing powers. The crusades are realistically described, so all this might have made quite an interesting story in itself, but it is told at such length that it distorts the shape of the narrative and distracts attention from what is happening to Josse and the abbey, where Josse's younger brother Yves had unexpectedly turned up.

Then, when Josse himself gets possession of the Eye, its magical powers present the author with considerable problems if she is stop the whole story sounding like a fairy tale. In the end, Josse hands over the Eye to Abbess Helewise. She tries reducing its evil emanations by placing it under the altar, but finds that it still "lived up to its reputation. It lowered fevers. Or, of course, it might have been Sister Euphemia's endless efforts, her patience and skill.

Sister Euphemia, that was, guided by and acting for God. Of course, if it really had these powers, it would reduce abbey life and its less effective healing spring to nonsense. So, in the next three books, we get no further mention of the Eye. Indeed when the few outstanding treasures of the abbey are listed, it does not even get a mention. The author seems to have found it more convenient to forget all about it, until she eventually finds a need to resurrect it in Heart of Ice.

A Dark Night Hidden A Dark Night Hidden starts in the winter of the year in which King Richard was taken prisoner with a particularly vicious rape of a tortured woman by her prison gaoler. She is in prison because of persecution by Father Micah, a harsh new priest who is sent to minister at Hawkenlye Abbey. Heretics, in his eyes, "are an abomination in the sight of God.

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They must be cast into the purifying flames, every last man, woman and child". He makes his way around the abbey, criticising almost everyone, but steering clear of the small leper house "which nobody including the nuns who served there entered if they expected to leave again". He "reserved the greater part of his spleen for the home for fallen women" which was "the area of her responsibility in which Helewise felt the most satisfaction". But not Father Micah. When one of the women held up her baby for him to bless, he called out, "Begone from my sight, harlot!

And take that spawn of Satan with you". You can see why he gets murdered. His main victims are a group of Cathars from the continent. One of these, a badly tortured woman, her forehead branded and her back covered in infected weals from a brutal flogging, takes refuge at the abbey. Sir Josse d'Aquin is one of those who wants to help them flee the country. Helewise appreciates "what a fine figure of a man he was. Stop it, she ordered herself firmly. Stop looking at him like that".

And she does. But she finds it hard to agree with him about helping heretics: "Heretics say terrible things, Sir Josse, They claim that Christ is not divine! They scorn the clergy and say that each and every man and woman may address the deity personally Heresy must not be allowed to spread.

Because it will lead directly to men and women dying in a state of sin". Life inside the abbey is well described, but a whole section is devoted to the forest people and their pagan rites, and tells how newcomer Joanna who was the mother of Josse's child, although he did not know this is initiated, after being visited by a man in a bear mask who had a "strange face that was sometimes a muzzle thickly covered in dark brown fur, sometimes the features of a man with delight in his dark eyes that sparkled with firelight. Which was peculiar, she thought afterwards, since he had stood with his back to the flames.

Then they all go off in pairs to "find a quiet corner in which to lie together, honouring the Great Mother in an act of love". And the bear-man comes back for Joanna. Still, in a way it must have come as quite a relief. How all this love-making ties in with the draconian family planning method described in Ashes of the Elements is not explained. The forest people lack credibility.

In addition, the narrative unfolds in a disjointed sort of way. Then, right at the end, there is an incomprehensible map, attempting to show the spread of heresy in Europe. Not one of the best books in the series. They desperately want children, and Josse suggests that a visit to Hawkenlye Abbey, with its magic spring and expert infirmarer, Sister Euphemia, might prove helpful. So Galiena sets off - but disaster strikes on the way. Josse feels compelled to investigate, even though this involves more than one visit to the dangerous marshes where, at a place known by outsiders as Dreadfall, a savage and brutal pagan race still survive, led by a violent chief.

It is not too obvious why Josse risks his life there: "He was beginning to think he had made a bad mistake in coming", but then discovers a drugged and chain girl who of course he feels he must rescue. But, as the plot gets more and more convoluted, Josse thinks, "I am fumbling in the dark. There is so much that I do not know - that I believe is being deliberately obfuscated and kept from me". Then he finds he been suspecting the wrong person of being a murderer. Interestingly, for the first time, we get some information about how Helewise came to be a nun: "When I was widowed," she confides in Ambrose, "the options were few and little to my liking.

I had not thought to take the veil, for I had no desire for the limited life that I believed would be my lot behind convent walls. But then I heard of Hawkenlye Abbey, and I learned about the principles upon which it was founded, and I thought that it was where I wanted to be. I was admitted to the congregation, I grew to love the place, I learned the meaning of a truly satisfying day's work, I discovered that God had a plan for me all along, and ever since I have done my utmost to follow it".

But what were those principles that so attracted her? There is quite a lot of action in this story, which begins well, but the latter part, where the emphasis is on Josse rather than Helewise, gets rather drawn-out. The country is impoverished by the cost of paying a high ransom for King Richard who is held hostage. The Abbess Helewise is struggling to keep the abbey going when her elder son Leofgar reappears after an absence of 20 years, with his distraught wife and now mute little boy.

What has happened to reduce them to such a condition? They do not want to explain, but then a man is found strangled and Leofric and his family slip away from the abbey at night and go into hiding. Leofric is suspected of the murder. Helewise and Josse set off to the Old Manor, Leofric's house and her old home, but there is no sign of them there. Helewise is reminded of her own past when she first met and married her late husband, Ivo. She was only fourteen at the time but very much in love with him.

This is another of those long flashbacks 36 pages that really do break up the flow of the narrative. It includes not only some essential information, but digressions such as an explanation that when Helewise's younger sister Aelis, then aged ten, grows up, her "big-hearted and apparently endless well of love for animals will be turned to humans when, after giving birth to her one and only child, she will set about opening her home to foundlings and proceeding to give food, warmth and the hope of a chance in life to many who would otherwise have died young".

What, surprisingly, we have not yet been told is how Ivo died. Now that is a flashback that would be interesting. As is a later flashback of only four pages, when we hear how the murderer's past provided his motivation. The author can be very gritty and explicit, as when she describes a man's dead body being fed to the pigs, or an attempted rape scene, but when Helewise and Ivo make love, "she finds the sight of his hairy chest, flat belly and obvious strength very arousing As her fingers begin to caress, Ivo lets out a moan of desire Jesse's favourite expression "God's boots!

Similarly, Helewise is given what sounds like genuine contemporary contraceptive advice by her old nurse, Elena, just before she gets married: "It's said that a poultice of hemlock applied to a man's testicles prevents the shedding of fertile seed, but I've known that fail and in my opinion it's not to be relied on, besides being a mite unconfortable. For the man, anyway! Secreting walnuts in her bodice, one nut for every month that she wishes to delay conception". In the end, Helewise herself gets kidnapped, and there is an exciting rescue.

However, the explanation that after a wicked old philanderer had been "robbed of my manhood" in a riding accident, he did not want to lose face so always arranged for his faithful servant to take his place at the critical moment so that "the girls were not heard to complain", does not sound too probable. Heart of Ice Heart of Ice starts with a gripping and frightening description of how the plague is brought to Hawkenlye from a remote part of Africa.

It is February , and intensely cold. It is only when a thaw sets in, that the body of a murdered young man is discovered in what had been the frozen lake. Abbess Helewise sends a message about it to Tonbridge sheriff Gervase de Gifford, and also her trusted old friend Sir Josse d'Acquin to "ask, if he is not too busy, if he will kindly pay us a visit". He never is too busy, of course. You wonder how his estate survives so well without him. But then the plague strikes. Searching desperately for help, Helewise has "a snatch of memory, nothing more, from, what, a year and a half ago?

She has remembered that on a hidden ledge behind the altar she had placed the Eye of Jerusalem, that amazing magical healing jewel given her by Josse, that had already been successfully tried out "when there was that ourtbreak of fever a year ago last autumn". Why on earth she had never given it a thought since then is not explained. Helewise herself sets about helping to nurse the victims, then she too goes down with the plague. The Eye, though, does not seem to help her - or indeed anyone else.

Sister Euphemia, the experienced old infimarer with particular expertise at nursing old men, examining murderered bodies, and advising on women's troubles finds her energy and talents stretched to the limits. But she can't do anything for Helewise, so young Sister Tiphaine, the herbalist, sets off back to her old home ground in the forest to enlist the help of Joanna, who had made her new home there and been initiated as one of the forest people..

Joanna herself had been away, with her toddler daughter Meggie, on what sounds a highly organised and demanding sort of mystical training course for pagan healers that had taken her over the sea, first to "Mona's Isle" then on to Brittany. It all gets very weird and mysterious, and comes complete with tribal ceremonies in which the people re-enacted their past and "screamed their defiance and their pride". Joanna is given a new name, Beith, and is solemnly told: "Our great task is to search for the sublime, to delve into what is secret and arcane and, by so doing, achieve the uplifting that is our destiny.

Some of the pagan ideas sound strangely modern, as when she was taught "the extraordinary concept that a person's body may be made ill because their mind is in distress'. But she is also taught the use of magical drugs "that give insight and, in a lucky few, open the window on the future and bestow the gift of prophecy". She ends up on her first "soul journey", floating above the land of Lyonesse and seeing what happened in the past.

All this is described at great length 42 pages , and the author obviously takes it very seriously. Indeed even Abbess Helewise hears an inner voice telling her: "All gods are one god and behind them is the truth. Josse had been told that a female descendant of his would have great powers with the Eye, so Joanna is eventually persuaded to let her 6 month old daughter whom Josse had fathered to dip the Eye in healing water when "the water began to shine. As if a miniscule fragment of a bright star had fallen into it - or perhaps was reflected in it - for the space of a few heartbeats the water emitted a brilliant light.

It faded, quite slowly, but when it had gone the water had changed; it was purer, clearer and brighter" - and it's magical powers had been restored.

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Sister Euphemia later "often asked herself whether that mysterious draught really had anything to do with their the victims' recovery or whether it was simply that that the illness had run its course and at last left their racked bodies Rational thinking was all very well, however; the other part of Sister Euphemia, the one which knew that she had observed not one, but several miracles, put logic right out of mind and prompted her to go down in her knees and thank God for his mercy".

But it needs the help of Joanna herself to save Helewise, "She sees herself as just a channel through which people can be helped. We are the consciousness that was ancient even when the first stones were set up; the consciousness that awoke and greeted the first day, We are always here for those that seek us with the right mind; you have but to learn what that mind is and how to achieve it". And, we are told, "Joanna had spent a year doing just that. So "standing in the recess where the Abbess lay dying.

Joanna drew on all that she had been taught and sent out a silent cry to the spirits clustering around her to help her find the swiftly receding soul and bring it back". And you can guess what happens. She heard them, sometimes she though she could see them. They chanted - quietly, hypnotically, continuously - and they wore white. In their hands they held rods tipped with quartz that looked very like her own.

But the mighty strength that came pulsing out from them was as far removed from anything she had yet achieved as a puddle is from an ocean". All this romantic fantasy makes a strange contrast with the very down-to-earth descriptions of plague victims. The murderer, a professional assassin, is identified, and even Prince John seems to have had a hand in it all. As the author admits in a postscript, there is no evidence to support this - but it is the sort of thing he might have done! Meanwhile, King Richard is welcomed back home again, and he and his mother, Queen Eleanor Helewise's old friend , attend a special thanksgiving service at Hawkenlye Abbey.

This series of books seems to have run its course, and it's difficult to see where any further episodes could take us, unless either Abbess Helewise elopes with Josse and they are both far too much in control of themselves to do this or the pagan Forest Folk take over the Abbey with Joanna as the Great One in charge you can't help feeling that the author might quite like this, but what would happen then to poor Helewise?

But it seems that at least three further Hawkenlye novels are in the pipeline, so presumably there'll be yet more of the same. It gets off to quite an interesting start with Merlin's huge bones supposedly being discovered and his tomb made into a popular pilgrim attraction. So popular, in fact, that Abbess Helewise is worried that Hawkenlye Abbey will lose all its revenue, now that pilgrims are choosing to be healed at Merlin's tomb instead. As she explains to Sir Josse d'Acquin, "We need the funds, you see If our benefactors choose to support a rival foundation, then with a huge and unfillable hole in our income and, far more crucially, without the needy, the lost, the sick and the desperate to care for, we shall no longer have a reason to exist and we are lost.

She seems little concerned with such pious activities. She does not even seem to spend time caring for the nuns in her charge. She does not do all that much detection either. Most of the story is taken up, not by her adventures, but those of Josse who sets off for Brittany in order to see what he hopes will be the true tomb of Merlin. However, I do think spiritual experiences and practices were more open during medieval times as compared with current times.

Still recommending. Apr 21, Mary Beth rated it really liked it. Enjoy this series because of the historical aspect as well as the characters. Look forwward to the next one. Having started the series you kind of have to be in it for the long run with Josse and Hellewise. The plots seem to be thankfully getting a bit less convoluted. Familiar and comfortable read. First Sentence: The walled garden lay as if stunned under the hot May sunshine. Once there, the woman keep refuses examination and keeps herself sequestered. The husband arrives later, much addled and unwell. But First Sentence: The walled garden lay as if stunned under the hot May sunshine.

Vivid descriptions are a hallmark of Ms. English history is an interest of mine. Clare goes beyond providing interesting information and facts. I love that, in spite of being Abbess, Helowise had a full life prior to becoming Abbess. I do recommend the series and suggest reading it in order. Dec 09, P. Lindsay added it Shelves: historical-mysteries.

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I am seriously concerned about the star rating system because of the misuse it is open to with some readers. A 'One star because I hate it!

  1. Works (17).
  2. Series by cover.
  3. Hardback Editions;
  4. I've held off reviewing this year because of this problem. As a writer I know how a low star review can actually stop sales. And I've seen how some readers seem aware of this and use reviews as I am seriously concerned about the star rating system because of the misuse it is open to with some readers. And I've seen how some readers seem aware of this and use reviews as a power weapon. So I am not adding stars until we can have a two teir system where one can rate a book personally as I like or did not like the book becausse Alys Clare writes a good Mediaeval hist-myst.

    She doesn't often slip in her research and she can plot a nice twisty story to keep you guessing to the end. Here we have Josse d'Acquin finding himself involved in the puzzle of a neighbour which turns out to be deeply mysterious. Once again he becomes a partner in investigation with Abbess Hilda.

    Historical Novels of the Angevins and their Time:

    Readers of hist mysts will enjoy this story esspecially if they like spooky elements. Nov 05, Sue rated it liked it Shelves: england , medieval , mystery. It is agreed that they could help Galiena and she arrives at the Abbey a few days later. When she dies a few days later, Josse undertakes to tell the family and what he learns there takes him on a journey to a remote settlement of people who do not like outsiders.

    Can Josse deliver his message? Not as enjoyable, in my opinion, as others in the series, yet I can't really pinpoint why I feel that way. Characters from earlier books are included and I wished I could remember the context from before. But it's a good series and I intend to go on. Aug 15, Ann Mcelligott rated it really liked it Shelves: historical-novel , mystery.

    As I work my way through the Hawkenlye series of medieval mysteries, I am enjoying the character development of the lead characters and the new ones being drawn into the stories. While the center of the action is Hawkenlye Abbey, a double monastery under the leadership of Abbess Helewise, Josse d'Aquin is drawn into wild areas of England where a group of people are clinging to the old religion before Christianity.

    Aug 26, Alissa McCarthy rated it liked it. Number 7 in the series. Of course, not everything is as it seems. This series is not quite up to Brother Cadfael standards, but is thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. Aug 02, Ruth rated it liked it Shelves: crime-historical. Damn- another review lost because of the app. Life is too short to do it again but memo toself - enjoyable read but not too much depth. Will be looking for next one. Apr 05, Anita rated it really liked it Shelves: historical-fiction , mystery , medieval-great-britian. A strong addition to the Hawkenlye series.

    Love Abbess Helewise.

    May 23, Ma'lis Wendt rated it really liked it. Another complex mystery in the Hawkenlye series. Alys Clare's plots are always fascinating with lots of medieval details. Jan 15, Cindi rated it it was amazing. As always, terrific!

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    Held my attention, couldn't put it down! Apr 01, Laura rated it really liked it Recommends it for: Susanna. Shelves: historical-mystery , passport-books , read This book was kindly sent by Gundula. What to say about the plot? Unbelievable well written, a real page tuner book, should be not missed.

    Apr 11, Beth added it. Continuing to enjoy this series of mysteries set in 12th century England. Shirley Simchik rated it liked it Feb 14, Sue rated it it was amazing May 19, Kathleen rated it it was amazing Sep 07,