Saint Peter’s Fair/The Leper of St. Giles (Brother Cadfael, Books Four and Five)

Monday, March 21, 2016


Saint Peter’s Fair/The Leper of St. Giles (Brother Cadfael, Books Four and Five)
Ellis Peters, 1981

Challenge Book! Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016 - Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900.


Premise: (Follows, although requires no knowledge of, Monk’s Hood.) The annual fair has returned, after being disturbed by civil war the year before. A clash between the abbey and the merchants of the town raises tension, but are the resulting deaths due to commerce or more secret agendas? Then, an expensive wedding is to be held at the abbey, but the match seems poor. That would be all there is to it, if there were not also secret loves, hidden identities, and a mysterious wanderer at the St. Giles asylum.

These are both solid entries in an enjoyable series. St. Peter’s Fair, like One Corpse Too Many, deals significantly with the civil war in England at the time. According to Wikipedia, this war is sometimes called ‘The Anarchy.’ In short, it revolved around who should succeed to the throne of England: Henry I’s nephew Stephen (called King Stephen) or his daughter Matilda (called Empress Maud due to her marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor).

There is no actual fighting going on at this time, but factions are working behind the scenes, and several characters are using the fair to cover information gathering or meeting with confederates. I enjoy that there are simultaneously characters who care desperately about these causes and will do anything for them and characters who don’t give a fig for who rules England, because it doesn’t matter to their lives.

Both books feature a romance and interesting female characters. In the first, a merchant’s daughter at the fair is stalked by tragedy and courted by a flashy young nobleman. It sounds simple, and perhaps it is, but Emma’s strength and bravery tells in the exciting climax.

Romance is central to The Leper of St. Giles, as it features an unhappy match between a cruel older nobleman and a very young heiress who only has eyes for the knight in the lord’s train. Machinations on both sides complicate matters, and murder follows, as this is a mystery series.

The best parts of this book are split between Cadfael’s former apprentice Brother Mark’s work at the leper-house, and the way this plot touches lightly on Cadfael’s time in the crusades. His attitude towards all the characters is colored by the knowledge and experience which sets him apart from many at the abbey. Plus there’s a surprise character late in the book who only appears briefly, but Cadfael and I are of one mind about how awesome she is.

Both tons of fun and great reading.

4 Stars - Very Good Books

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