Reviews by L. J. Roberts

ALYS CLARE – Girl in a Red Tunic. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, November 2005; softcover, August 2006.

Genre: Historical mystery. Series characters: Abbess Helewise/Josse d’Acquin, 8th in series. Setting: England-Middle Ages/1193.

First Sentence: He had to wait until it was dark and everyone was asleep.

ALYS CLARE The Girl in the Red Tunic

   Abbess Helewise has been thinking about her life prior to joining the Abbey. She is surprised, yet concerned, when her son Loefgar, shows up with his wife, who looks pale and ill, and their 14-month son, who is unnaturally shy and won’t speak.

   It is a relief to have her good friend, Josse d’Acquin, who had come to the Abbey ill but is recovered, on hand. When a man, who claims his brother was killed by Leofger in a dispute, is found hanged near the Abbey, Loefgar, and his family, disappear. Helewise fears for her son, and questions how events from the past are impact the present.

   The most important element of a book, to me, is the characters. It has always been the characters which have drawn me to this series. We learn much more about Helewise than in previous books. These were times when an Abbess needn’t have been a nun, so it’s nice to see her as a woman, learn about her past, and how she came to Hawkenlye Abbey.

   As always, we see the strength of the friendship between Helewise and Josse. Not only Helewise and Josse, but all the supporting characters come to life under Ms. Clare’s hand, even the ones you don’t trust. I do appreciate that we’ve see a transition in characters since the beginning of the series. People come and go in life ad Clare handles it in a way which works.

   In most of the previous books, there has been a strong element of the metaphysical. I am one who, if done well, enjoys that. It is an element of this book as well, and it works. These were times when, even with the dominance of the Catholic Church, people, including the clergy, were highly superstitious and believed the ancient powers and abilities. Although it is quite clear that Ms. Clare is no fan of the Church, I would suspect any book set in this time, which did not include some reference to the metaphysical.

   Which leads to the third thing: I love English history. Not only did Ms. Clare include a map and genealogical chart at the beginning of the book, she clearly does her period research. Early in the story, Clare talks about King Henry being captured for ransom and the impact the levies was having on the lives of the people.

   She paints a vivid picture of people’s lives, including the hunger and cold due to lack of money. A slight misstep is in the plotting. I did figure out the motive and villain before the end, which reduced my rating, but it didn’t spoil the read for me.

   In fact, I was so drawn into the book, I never wanted to put it down, and found the ending quite sad, but rather lovely. I look forward to continuing with this series.

Rating:   Good Plus.

Editorial Comment:   There are now 12 books in this “Hawkenlye” series, with the most recent appearing in 2008. Since then Alys Clare seems to have switched gears a bit, with two books in her “Aelf Fen” series being published in 2009. These novels are set in the reign of William II (1087-1100), with the series itself named after the imaginary area in which they take place.