Reviews by L. J. Roberts

ALYS CLARE – Whiter Than the Lily. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, November 2004; paperback, August 2005.

Genre:   Historical mystery. Leading characters: Josse d’Acquin/Abbess Helewise; 7th in series. Setting:   England, 1190s.

First Sentence:   The walled garden lay as if stunned under the hot May sunshine.

ALLYS CLARE Whiter Than the Lily

    Sir Josse d’Acquin. a knight in the era of King Richard I, is taken to the Isle of Oxney where he meets an older man and his young wife who despair of having a child. When asked, Josse supports their idea of the wife traveling to The Abbey of Hawkenlye where Josse’s friend, Abbess Helewise, and her nuns might help the young wife.

   Once there, the woman keep refuses examination and keeps herself sequestered. The husband arrives later, much addled and unwell. But for Josse, who comes to the Abbey, something doesn’t add up, particularly when the woman dies and is found to have been pregnant.

   Vivid descriptions are a hallmark of Ms. Clare’s writing whether it is of the area in spring, thunderstorms, or of dreams. That, along with a lovely, gentle humor to the author’s voice and a touch of the paranormal to the story, although much less than in some of the previous books, are some of the reasons why I so enjoyed this book.

   English history is an interest of mine. Ms. Clare goes beyond providing interesting information and facts. She views those facts in terms of their impact on the lives of the people such as the strain on people to raise money for King Richard’s ransom…

    “Although Helewise understood why such an expensive campaign had been necessary, a port of her could not help wondering whether knights, lords and kings with the passion and the thrill of holy war filling their heads ought to pause just for a moment to wonder if it was all worth it.”

    As always, I read for interesting, realistic characters. I love that, in spite of being Abbess, Helewise had a full life prior to becoming Abbess. I appreciate Josse’s uncertainties and frustration at the realization of how little he knows and how few facts he has in trying to learn what happened.

   However, it’s the relationship between Helewise and Josse; one of friendship, respect and support but with the affection always contained, that is the central focus of the stories.

   I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am pleased I’ve many more books ahead of me. I do recommend the series and suggest reading it in order.

Rating:   Good Plus.

Editorial Comment:   There are 12 books in this “Hawkenlye” series, with the most recent appearing in 2008. LJ reviewed Girl in a Red Tunic, the eighth in the series, here, earlier on this blog. The titles of the books come from Carmina Burana, the lyrics of which were written by a 12th century monk.