Top positive review
A good yarn, nice period detail
on September 4, 2001
The twentieth and final book in the popular series, Brother Cadfael's Penance finds the title character drawn out of his home at the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in a quest to free a young man taken prisoner in a war between the Empress Maud and her cousin, Stephen. Betrayal at the hands of Robert, one of the Empress's most trusted soldiers has landed Olivier de Bretagne in prison, where he seems destined to rot. But word of his fate reaches Brother Cadfael, who knows he must leave the Abbey and come to the aid of the young man-who is the monk's only child, sired before his vows during the time he fought in the Crusades. He must also keep Olivier's impulsive brother-in-law safe, and solve the murder of a rogue lord who supported Robert. A fascinating story on many levels, Brother Cadfael's Penance combines the best of adventure stories, mysteries, and historical fiction into one seamless, well-realized tale. Everything about the story-especially character, setting, and historical detail-rings true. Peters' knowledge of Middle Ages customs, language, and beliefs, honed through years of writing, is extensive and makes the era come alive. Cadfael, now the subject of a twentieth story, feels as familiar as family. Torn between his vows and his duty as a father, Cadfael places his son first when he decides to travel to Coventry to seek help and information. But such a decision comes at a cost to Cadfael's peace of mind. Here is where Peters' familiarity with her character becomes noticeable. Cadfael's faith is tested, as is his devotion to the way of life he has chosen. Peters makes his internal struggles seem genuine, the natural outcome of having his world turned upside down; yet he emerges from his travails stronger in both spirit and character. The secondary characters, such as Olivier, Yves, and Robert, are also fleshed out and realistic. The conflict in the story is based on real history, yet the fictional aspects of the story blend very well with the historical facts. Sometimes the plot becomes too thick for its own good, and there are times when there seem to be more characters than necessary. But the story progresses well, and is never boring. Interestingly, Cadfael's search for his son takes precedence over the mystery, which seems almost an afterthought. (It does tie in with the main plot, though). The identity and motive of the murderer is well-hidden until the revelatory moment, and ultimately the story is left with a few plot threads hanging. It is possible that Peters intended to write another book but died before it was realized. The resolution of the main plot thread, though, is very satisfactory and allows the story to end on a positive note.