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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.
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on June 19, 2000 should come as no surprise that BrotherCadfael feels he must pay penance for his, as well. And in this20th--and final--chronicle of Brother Cadfael, Ellis Peters takes us a giant step forward in her characterization of the good Benedictine monk, a man once a member of the Crusades and now wrestling against sin behind the cloth.
In "Brother Cadfael's Penance," Peters permits Cadfael to come face to face with another aspect of his life--a time before his monastic vows. It is 1145 and the great civil war rages on between King Stephen and Empress Maud. However, there is hope. A meeting between the two factions is scheduled for Coventry and Brother Cadfael secures permission from the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Shrewsbury to attend. Known widely for his skills in diplomacy, as well as crime solving abilities, Cadfael, however, wishes to attend for a very personal reason. He is seeking news of a young knight, Olivier de Bretagne. Olivier is Cadfael's son, from his days fighting in the Holy Land as a crusader. His holy vows aside, he feels he must do all within his power to save his son.
Peters, as always, presents Cadfael as more than human--she gives us a man for all seasons, as it were. In addition, she presents the good brother in a realistic but incredibly humane manner. He is a man whom we can love, respect, yes, even
cherish. Peters' ability to draw out these characteristics is perhaps what makes the series so fascinating. Hers is a series not to be missed. One probably should read them in the order they were written; or at least, read earlier ones before this one, as the poignancy of the meeting between father and son is so much more dramatized when the reader has the background to appreciate such a climactic episode. I cannot imagine a reader being disappointed!
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on September 21, 1998
Ellis Peters did a wonderful job with the last book in the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael. Cadfael gets word that his secret son, Olivier de Breatgne, has been taken prisoner in the civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Maud, and has not been offered for ransom. Born in the far East of a Syrian mother, and choosing his unknown father's religion to join the English, Olivier does not know that Brother Cadfael is his father. By chance Cadfael met him he when looking for two missing children, and the monk realised that the young man was the son that he never knew he had. Now Olivier is prisoner, his whereabouts and imprisoner unknown. Although Cadfael has broken the Rule of the Benedictine Order before, he has never broken his monastic vows. But as he said, "Knowing or unknowing, before I was a brother I was a father." Cadfael is torn between the monastic life he loves so dearly and the duty he feels to find his son and set him free. A wonderfully moving and exciting book.
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on April 16, 1998
Alas and alack! There will be no more Brother Cadfael mysteries. Ellis Peters is gone, but she has left a rich estate for all her readers, especially in the well-known Brother Cadfael series.
Cadfael's conflict in the book is between his monastic vows and what he perceives to be his natural duties as a father. His son Olivier has been captured and none know where he is. Cadfael looks for Olivier though he knows the search may cost him his home in Shrewesbury Abbey.
Later parts of the book deal with the issue that an honorable man may do that which seems most dishonorable if it helps end a destructive war.
Ellis Peter's characters are far more realistic and human than most. They are sympathetic, mostly good characters torn by events, doing wrong in reaction to being trapped in unpitying reality. Her characters are consistent and believable with a few possible exceptions. Olivier, for example, seems all perfection -- yet is this not how his loving father would see him?
As a whole, the Cadfael series is an excellent blend of plot, character, and setting. Brother Cadfael's Penance, the last written in the series, is one of the best. The insights are richer and deeper, the characters more engaging, the conflicts of a bigger yet always very human scale.
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on January 26, 2001
This final installment of the mysteries of Brother Cadfael finds Ellis Peters in outstanding form- what prose this Englishwoman conjures! Of all the Cadfael mysteries, this is one of the finest! The writing is typically adroit - wise, full and redeeming, and the passages found toward the last third of the book, describing the interior heart of Brother Cadfael towards Olivier, his 'unknown' son, are as beautifully trenchant as anything one will find in popular prose writing. In this series of books, the mysteries themselves are always well-placed and fascinating, authentic and without tricks, but again, it is the superlative writing of Ellis Peters, the warmth of the language and the architecture of its comeliness, that captivates; indeed, she has permanently raised the genre of mystery novel to a new plateau of genuine literary interest. P.D. James, eat your heart out! All 20 Cadfael mysteries highly recommended - an addiction to treasure!
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on August 3, 2002
Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter) came to my attention early in the Brother Cadfael series, and has seldom been a disappointment. This novel has an interesting, historically sound plot, a keen grasp of human nature, and great characterization throughout.

More than one reviewer has marveled at the virtuousness of her medieval characters, but when Peters paints a portrait of virtue, it is never cheap, sentimental, or caricatured. In a 21st-century culture trying to light the dead wood of honor and chivalry with the fickle tinder of cynicism, warrior monks like Brother Cadfael were and are a welcome breath of fresh air. Those reviewers who dismiss Cadfael as too saintly have let his faithfulness to Benedictine rule and Catholic orthodoxy blind them to his literary kinship with the good-but-not-to-be-messed-with likes of Huckleberry Finn and Phillip Marlowe.
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on December 5, 1998
This book is about Cadfael's son being kidnapped, and held WITHOUT ransom. Those of us serious Brother Cadfael fans love the depth that Ellis Peters uses to describe his feelings upon discovering that his son is in serious danger, and noone appears to be doing anything about it. He makes his decision to go after him himself, and take whatever consequenses for his actions that Father Abbott sees fit - even the threat of being ejected from the order. He must find him; then he must bargin for his release. The book moves right along. There is intrigue, mystery, exciting battle scenes, touching father-son moments, and suspense. I can't wait for this book to be made into a made-for-TV movie, as so many of the others have. I highly recommend this book.
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Had Ellis Peters know this would be her final "Brother Cadfael" book before her death, she couldn't have written a better one. Returning to the fascinating plot line of Cadfael's long-lost son, Olivier, she does an excellent job of balancing Cadfael's love for his monastery and his monastic profession with his love and devotion to the son he has only begun to know. Almost everyone in life has experienced the tension of two loves that nearly tears them apart and destroys them. Ms. Peters again does a wonderful job of keeping her characters true to themselves, to their times, and to the interplay developed in the long line of Cadfael mysteries. I very much enjoyed the book!
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on December 20, 2000
BUT! Now Brother Cadfael belongs to history, and the readers who love him so.
Start at the beginning and READ THIS SERIES! Miss Peters had an unparalleled gift for conjuring the most beautiful images with her words. I mean, how many people can write about the grim and gritty middle ages and almost make you want to live there? When Cadfael digs in his garden and breathes in the scent of his herbs, you are there, my friend.
In this volume we again meet Olivier, Cadfael's son. That would make it worth buying alone, but we also get a brilliant story with EP's usual marvelous characters. What a marvelous ending to this stand-out series.
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on May 31, 2002
After reading Ellis Peters' 20th and last Cadfael story I can't help but feel a little sad knowing that there will be no more coming. The Cadfael novels were all finely written and satisfying as mysteries and historical novels. In this last installment, there is a murder mystery, but Cadfael ends up solving much more than a crime. In fact, the crime solving aspect is a small part of this story that mostly surrounds the relationships between a father and an estranged son. I think most fans will agree that it isn't one of the best three or four, but it was very good, and is a fitting conclusion to the Cadfael story.
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