Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Good Book!

I didn't want to go to bed without recommending Graven Images: The Averillan Chronicles Book II by Barbara Reichmuth Geisler.

This is a darn good book.

Set during the wars of Stephen and Matilda Empress, Graven Images continues the story of the Abbey of Shaftesbury and its Benedictine nuns. (Since I haven't read the first book, I can assure you that this story stands on its own.) A young woman named Savette is found dead, and suspicion falls upon the town's Jewish goldsmith, Master Levitas. Meanwhile, the gifted craftsman Master Hugo finds himself with not only the abbey's commissioned reredos, but a starved orphan named Ralf and a protective wolfhound named Tindal on his hands. Abbess Emma has worries over her town, her nuns, and a secret debt amassed by her predecessor. Then there is our titular heroine, Dame Averill, a woman with pride in her gift of healing but very little healing for herself. I could go on. Suffice it to say, there's a townful of interesting characters you'll get to know.

I suppose this is supposed to be a mystery novel. Well, there is a mystery, and it is solved satisfyingly. But to be honest, the pleasure of this book is in the characters, the setting, and the portrayal of medieval religion and religious life. I am so used to complaining and nitpicking about medieval settings that it's a great relief to find an author who simply lets medieval people be medieval. When I add that the author includes a good deal of wisdom about God and prayer, you can see why I was so impressed. The only flaw is that there's a bit of a slow start, and occasionally not as much flow as there could be. But all in all, this is great. I liked Cadfael well enough, but this is actually more to my taste.

And did I mention how well-made the book itself is? Or how beautiful the cover photo of a medieval Gospel book cover is? A really jaw-dropping ivory carving of the Baptism of the Lord, complete with vigorously hovering angels, on a cover set with jewels and intricate gold work. You could stare at it for hours. Practically worth the price in itself.

I can't wait to read the first volume, Other Gods: The Averillan Chronicles. From the hints in Book II, it sounds like it will be very interesting indeed.


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