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Medieval Fiction: St. Mungo’s Robin & The Book of the Maidservant

November 26, 2010

     I’ve enjoyed reading medieval mysteries for years, probably starting with the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters, a series of 20 titles. Recently I’ve discovered a new author; Pat McIntosh. Her series features Gil Cunningham, along with stonemason Master Pierre and his clever daughter Alys. They are set in Glasgow, Scotland, in the late 15th century, and the series starts with The Harper’s Quine. Gil is a law student, and is expected to take minor orders as a priest, but naturally falls in love with Alys. The three of them investigate a number of crimes, with a strong sense of place and attention to the details of daily life. It’s so different from our modern life that I think that’s part of the appeal for me.

     I also enjoy medieval fiction written for teens. This book by Rebecca Barnhouse is based in part on the first English autobiography of a woman, the pilgrim Dame Margery Kempe, who traveled to Rome and the Holy Land and later dictated her memoirs. Her maidservant isn’t named, but complaints about her and her traveling companions are described in detail. Johannah is our narrator here, and we certainly believe she’s a real person, coping with the unreasonable demands of the difficult Lady Margery and the others, including the friends she makes along the way. At one point, she’s abandoned by Lady Margery, and must get by on her own. Memories of her sister Rose, and Cook and Ciccily back in Lyme enliven the story.

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