5.0 out of 5 stars Love, marriage, and death, greed and all the usual suspects
This volume is the 10th in the series about Dame Frevisse, a nun in the 15th century. It's a series best read in order - there is a lot of background in each book, and the regular characters' lives develop and change; some behavior of the characters is puzzling if you don't know the background. So, if this is the first book in the series that you are coming across,...
Published on July 24 2001 by R. Kelly Wagner
3.0 out of 5 stars History, not mystery
I'd read good reviews of Frazer's books, and picked up this one to start. I think I could have done better.
The murder occurs on pg 190 of 274. Until then, it's a historical novel. It's quite well done; I find her writing wonderfully detailed, and enjoyed the careful scene creation. All the characters are nicely drawn. Still, it felt like a historical novel that...
Published on Mar 26 2002
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4.0 out of 5 stars Not my favourite.,
3.0 out of 5 stars History, not mystery,
By A Customer
The murder occurs on pg 190 of 274. Until then, it's a historical novel. It's quite well done; I find her writing wonderfully detailed, and enjoyed the careful scene creation. All the characters are nicely drawn. Still, it felt like a historical novel that metamorphosed into a mystery, with a rush to find the culprit in the last few chapters of the book.
I have to admit I found the hero, who was meant to be wonderfully sympathetic (dutiful, loves small children), quite off-putting. (I think this is a matter of personal preference entirely.)
He is married to a woman who apparently forced marriage on him when he was penniless (bringing him a substantial fortune); a big deal is made of his trying to love her but obviously failing (and of course she is not portrayed as lovable, being a hysterical and bossy scold); his affection for another woman who took the veil lightly touched on; and the centrepiece of the romantic element is his attraction to his ward, who has been raised as his foster daughter for some five years and is now about 17 or 18. She returns his affections. For some reason, this is a Good Thing.
However, disagreeing with an author's 'spin' on a plot is neither here nor there. Still, with an unsympathetic protagonist, and no "page-turner" effect, I found this book slower going than I expected.
1.0 out of 5 stars Not up to the standard,
By A Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Love, marriage, and death, greed and all the usual suspects,
This review is from: Squires Tale (Hardcover)This volume is the 10th in the series about Dame Frevisse, a nun in the 15th century. It's a series best read in order - there is a lot of background in each book, and the regular characters' lives develop and change; some behavior of the characters is puzzling if you don't know the background. So, if this is the first book in the series that you are coming across, through a recommendation, for example, let me recommend that you also search for the others, starting with _The Novice's Tale_.
The "conceit" of this series set in the 1430's is that our fictional heroine, Dame Frevisse, is the niece of the genuine person Geoffrey Chaucer, author of _The Canterbury Tales_ (ISBN: 0140440224). This liberty on real history allows Frazer to convey a lot of the times, and to give her heroine a connection to the rich and famous, even though Dame Frevisse is a nun in an out-of-the-way convent. Among other things, knowing that this is Chaucer's era tells us that the middle ages are over, and the Renaissance has begun; in only a few more years, the printing press will be invented. Already, more people are literate than in previous centuries, although that's still a tiny number of people, and women are somewhat more individuals in their own right, although still quite subordinate to men. Also, the format of the Canterbury Tales also gives us the format for the titles of the books in this series, with each story being named as the Tale of a particular character.
To me, these things make the 15th century easier to relate to than, say, the 12th Century, where Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael series is set. Brother Cadfael's world is alien enough to ours that it is sometimes difficult to really get into the stories, the motivations of the characters, and so on, although nonetheless I love that series. But I like the Frevisse series even better, because it is slightly more accessible - I can relate better to the characters, and therefore find the plots somewhat more understandable and believable.
In the 12th century, Stephen and Matilda fight over who is to rule England - both of them not figures that are really familiar to us, with the average US reader's grasp of history. However, by the 15th century, a Henry of the Tudor family is king, Henry VI, and most of us have at least some acquaintance with that dynasty. Likewise, by the 15th century, the ongoing war between England and France has taken on fairly familiar contours, with names we've heard of, such as Orleans and Burgundy. So one doesn't have to expend quite as much mental effort figuring out the country, and there's more leisure to enjoy the story. This may be one reason I enjoy this series even more than the Brother Cadfael stories. (Wonder what I'm referring to? Try "A Morbid Taste for Bones: The First Chronicle of Brother Cadfael" by Ellis Peters, ISBN: 0446400157.)
At this point in the series, the nunnery is relatively stable, earning some money by copying books and by schooling a couple of girls, and with almost enough food and supplies again. The time being Lent, the nuns are not eating during daylight hours, though, and the ongoing details about what constitutes fasting are interesting. This book starts out, though, in the home of Robert Fenner, a character we first met in an earlier book. Fenner is married to a woman older than he is; he also has wardship of a young lady almost old enough to be married off herself. Marriage in this era is about property, and arguments between Robert and his wife Blaunche over property whose ownership is disputed are at the heart of the story. Blaunche wants Katherine, the ward, to marry her son Benedict; Robert brings Katherine to stay at the convent for a while until he and his wife can cool off over the issue. I will not give away more of the plot; it's for you to discover and enjoy. I will mention a few little details that may induce you to start reading or keep reading, though: Domina Elisabeth, the (relatively) new prioress, seems to have acquired a cat. We learn a lot more about Dame Claire's herbal medicines. A couple of lawyers provide dry humor at one point, talking legal cases over the dinner table in a manner that seems entirely familiar today. Dame Frevisse finds herself telling bedtime stories to young children.
In the end, despite deaths and betrayal, there is a bit of happiness and true love. It's very satisfying. I won't necessarily say that this is the "best one yet" - I'd have trouble picking a favorite, but I do give a slight edge to those volumes in which Frevisse has run-ins with Bishop Beaufort, who is not present in this book (thankfully, to Frevisse's way of thinking...) But it's definitely a read-straight-through.
3.0 out of 5 stars Not really a mystery,
This review is from: Squires Tale (Hardcover)This, the tenth (if my count is correct) Sister Frevisse book demonstrates a trend away from the pure mystery novel. It is actually more of a Gothic book, featuring such Goth staples as attempted abductions, disputes over heiresses and even hints of secret passages. Aside from attempted abduction, no crime at all is committed in the first two-thirds of the book and the solution, when arrived at, is done so in two pages. In addition, the ending is extremely unconvincing.
The trend I mentioned, which started in "The Maiden's Tale" and continued in "The Reeve's Tale", is to subsume the mystery elements of the story into detailed descriptions of 15th century life in England. While there is nothing wrong with this per se, it does leave the dedicated mystery reader a bit at sea, even though the books are very well written and interesting as depictions of what life in England was like in the period just before the Wars of the Roses.
5.0 out of 5 stars another brilliant Dame Frevisse mystery novel,
This review is from: Squires Tale (Hardcover)Seven years ago, Robert Fenner, a young squire in the service of Sir William Fenner, caught the eye of Lady Blaunche Fenner. Lady Blaunche stood high in Sir William's regard, and so Robert, the younger son of another landless younger son, was given a choice: marry the already twice widowed Lady Blaunche or starvation. Now, in 1444, Robert faces a bitter choice of another sort: war with the Allesleys or going against his strong minded wife's wishes.
The Lady Blaunche, has for all these years, retained in her possession lands that should have rightly been returned to her first husband's family, the Allesleys, upon his death. This however Lady Blaunche refused to do and she and Robert have been enjoying the income from that estate all this time. Now however, the Allesleys are demanding the estate back as well as recompsense for all the income lost over the years. Robert would like to resolve the dispute by surrendering the lands, thus avoiding any bloodshed. Lady Blaunche however is passionate in her resolve to hold onto the lands. Trouble for the Fenners however has also arisen from another quarter. Robert and Blaunche have been taking care of a rather rich orphan, Katherine Stretton, and she is now of an age to marry. In fact, the book more or less opens with an attempt by a neighbour to abduct Katherine, and Robert's successful thwarting of the scheme. Lady Blaunche now wants to marry Katherine off to her eldest son, Benedict; Robert however is oppossed to such a scheme, and sends Katherine to St. Frideswide for safety until he can resolve his problems with the Allesleys and negotiate a good marriage for Katherine.
And this is how Dame Frevisse finds herself embroiled in the affairs of the Fenners. She would rather spend her time in the nunnery, in prayer and quiet contemplation, especially as it is now near Lent. But when Lady Blaunche arrives with news that it is now safe for Katherine to return, Domina Elisabeth asks Dame Frevisse to accompany Katherine home. It soon becomes evident that Lady Blaunche has some plan up her sleeve concerning Katherine. Robert has successfully resolved things by promising Katherine's hand in marriage to Allesley's son, and Blaunche is not happy at all. Dame Frevisse is soon caught up in the swirling passions that surround the Fenner family, passions that lead to murder...
This suspenseful novel made for engrossing reading. The novel may seem (on the surface anyway) to have been drawn out too much, but this was not so. This book was spun out for just the right length, to tweak your interest and involve you totally in the Fenner family and their doings. And all the characters were so deftly fleshed out that you saw all sides of a character, and so were able to get more involved in the novel -- for example it would be easy to dislike Lady Blaunche, but Margaret Frazer also gives her a vulnerable side that the reader can relate to easily. This novel also gives you a very good idea of how things stood in 15th century England, under a young boy king -- the seemingly calm eventhough there may be a power shift going on behind the scenes. I especially liked the glimpses of the daily rountine that nuns went through.
Margaret Frazer is a masterful tale spinner, and this book is a testament to her brilliance. Definitely a 5 star book.
5.0 out of 5 stars Best One Yet In This Mystery series,
This review is from: Squires Tale (Hardcover)In 1442 in the nineteenth year of the reign of King Henry VI, the war with France is going poorly, but inside England, for the most part, peace rules the land. The St. Frideswide nunnery reflects the overall state of England, enjoying the prosperity that has occurred since Domina Elisabeth became Prioress. One of the nuns Dame Frevisse has relished her two decade stay at the convent where she avoids earthly concerns whenever possible.
Unfortunately, Frevisse is forced to go out into the world when she and another sister are asked to accompany Katherine and her guardian to Brinskep Manor, land controlled by Lady Blaunche and Sir Robert, but contested by the Allesley family. Sir Robert agrees to arbitration knowing he really does not own the land, but the pregnant Blaunche desperately wants to keep it. Katherine wants to do right by Robert who cared for her since she was a child, but Blaunche interferes seeking a match between her son and the former. Tempers flare leading to something nasty occurring with Frevisse on the scene to insure justice happens.
Readers will savor the taste of fifteenth century England after reading the fabulous SQUIRE'S TALE. Arbitration is beginning to supersede minor battles as a sense of enlightenment shows that peaceful settlement of disputes is good for everyone. Dame Frevisse retains her freshness and authenticity in her tenth tale as fans will believe she is both a nun and an amateur sleuth. Margaret Frazier's latest story is another triumphant medieval mystery.
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Squires Tale by Margaret Frazer (Hardcover - Jan 14 2002)
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