Tag Archives: cadfael

2016 Reading update

We’re 10 weeks into the new year and I am soaring ahead with my reading goal. By now I need to have read 5 books to be on track; last night I finished book number 11.

The list so far

In my last update I mentioned I’d read (or had started reading):

  1. Cadfael: Monk’s Hood, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  2. Cadfael: St Peter’s Fair, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  3. Key Under Blue Pot and Please Milk the Goat, by Marie Sever
  4. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
  5. Cadfael: The Leper of St Giles, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)

Recent reads

Since then I’ve been on a bit of a Pauline M Ross binge – four of the six books I’ve read have been by her.

6. The Fire Mages’ Daughter by Pauline M Ross

I reviewed this book here. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed it a lot. Enough, at least, that I bought and subsequently read the three remaining books in Ross’ back catalogue.

7. Cadfael: The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)

I do like this series. For a murder mystery writer, Parteger seems to have had a fairly positive view of humanity. These are comfortable books, with nothing particularly distressing or emotionally challenging, and they all end up neatly concluded to the benefit of the characters who are nice or moral, and the detriment of those who are evil.

8. The Mages of Bennamore by Pauline M Ross

I didn’t end up reviewing this one but again I enjoyed it. Not quite as good as The Fire Mages’ Daughter, I think, but another charming story full of magic and romance. I’m really enjoying seeing glimpses of this world.

9. The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

After the softer books I’d been reading, this one really bored straight into my heart, via my tear ducts. I reviewed it here, but if you’ve not read the review, well let the fact that I reviewed a non-fantasy book on my fantasy blog clue you in.

10. The Plains of Kallanash by Pauline M Ross

Ross described this one as her “ugly duckling book” in her blog post Launch report: book 5, ‘The Fire Mages’ Daughter’. I found it full of intrigue and well-paced. It provided a fresh look at another aspect of her rich world – a new country, a new type of society. It might have struggled because the first chapter throws the reader into the deep end of that new type of society a bit – there’s a lot to process – but once the story picks up it’s a true adventure.

11. The Magic Mines of Asharim by Pauline M Ross

After everything I’d already read from her, I couldn’t wait to get my teeth stuck into the last available book from Ross. Once more, this book sheds a light on a different part of the world, though this time we get to see several different societies, neighbours to one another, with their cautious truces and different cultures. Once again this is packed with intrigue, adventure and love. I particularly liked the protagonist, who felt like a real figure – shaped by her upbringing, capable of changing her views and feelings, with anxieties to overcome and complex relationships with the other characters in the story.

Up next

A little over a week ago I went into Much Wenlock and there visited Wenlock Books, a lovely little independant bookshop full of little treasures. Aside from some great old map postcards (including one of medieval Shrewsbury I’ll use as a bookmark next time I read a Cadfael book, to save me always flicking back to the map at the start) I picked up The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift – another book in my “locals” list – and a great little hardback collection, Best Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s got a cloth cover and a ribbon page marker and really thin paper for the pages and gold edging. An absolutely beautiful book.

So I’m going to make a start on Hans Christian Andersen next. I’ve been meaning to get to this. Fairy tales have been an inspiration for fantasy for decades, one of the roots of fantasy, so it’s about time I really delved into one of the definitive writers of the genre.

I’m also hoping to get back to the Aubrey-Maturin books by Patrick O’Brian again soon, it’s been a while since I read the last one. I caught the movie approximation of the series (I wouldn’t stretch to call it an adaptation) on TV not long ago – Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World – which, now I’ve read both Master and Commander (book 1) and The Far Side of the World (book 10) I can safely say is not much like either of them, except in a few individual little scenes and lines.

2016 reading update

I’m definitely on track for my reading goal of 26 books this year. After five weeks, to be on track I need to have read two books and be about half way through a third. I’ve read four and have started the fifth, putting me nearly two books ahead of schedule. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

  • Cadfael: Monk’s Hood, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  • Cadfael: St Peter’s Fair, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  • Key Under Blue Pot and Please Milk the Goat, by Marie Sever
  • Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
  • (Just started:) Cadfael: The Leper of St Giles, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)

I blogged about the first two, and enjoyed them so much I wanted to get back to Cadfael again. My lastest book selection was also inspired by my decision to make a Cadfael doll to donate to my local library for their upcoming grand raffle – a local literary figure makes a great library prize.

Key Under the Blue Pot was an amusing, fast-paced diary-style novel about a house sitter and her many adventures with the houses, pets and neighbours of her clients. I read it because it’s by a local author, and includes some local settings, and I am glad I did because I enjoyed it a lot.

Rebecca blew me away. It’s something I’ve had a cultural awareness off for years, and after a recommendation as part of a conversation online I borrowed it from the library. Utterly compelling, with such a vivid depiction of the protagonist’s personality. I plan on seeing the Hitchcock film adaptation soon, and I think I’ll pick up some more of du Maurier’s books soon too.

I’ve got a few options for what to read next, including another book by Pauline M Ross, whose book The Fire Mages I recently reviewed, and several books on my shelves, including Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself, which I still haven’t got to and really should. Also I’m eager to continue the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian. We’ll see what I feel like when I finish The Leper of St Giles.

A pair of Cadfael books

I started my year’s reading with two Cadfael books, Monk’s Hood and St Peter’s Fair, by Ellis Peters (pen name of Edith Pargeter). These are books I bought while visiting Shrewsbury Museum with my friend Pam in December 2014, so it’s about time I read them. The Cadfael series are set in and around Shrewsbury Abbey, where the titular character Brother Cadfael is a Benedictine monk, during the Anarchy – a period of civil war in England between King Stephen and Empress Maud. They are murder mysteries, but not in the same vein as mainstream detective novels and TV shows – and not just because of the historical context.


Continue reading A pair of Cadfael books

Reflections on One Corpse Too Many (Cadfael Chronicles) by Ellis Peters

This is not a review. Not wholly. I’ve committed to reading 26 books in 2015, and blogging about them, and while this book wasn’t and isn’t on the list (I started it in 2014, and only read the last tenth or so today) I want to blog about it anyway. This is the second book in the series, which I only started reading relatively recently. It’s a series I’ve been meaning to get to for a while, partly because I’ve seen the adaptations with Derek Jacobi on TV, partly because it is set in a location that’s not too long of a drive from home, and partly out of a desire to branch out more into historical fiction, which I consider a sister or at least a cousin to fantasy, and can inform it.

I found One Corpse Too Many easy to get into, as I had with A Morbid Taste for Bones. What I notice about the prose is a tendency to slightly archaic syntax and sometimes vocabulary too, and occasional telling. The narrative is third person omniscient, usually looking from Cadfael’s point of view and within his thoughts, but with the points of view and internal thoughts of other key characters too. So overall rather at odds with the way I usually write, and yet it remains compelling.

My impression before I picked up these books, based on hazy memories of the TV adaptations, was that these were murder mysteries set in a medieval abbey. And to a certain degree, they are, but these stories take things further than finding out whodunnit. There is an element of everyday drama within them, where Cadfael’s goal isn’t merely to solve the murder, but to solve the other problems of the community of which he is part (or, in A Morbid Taste for Bones, to which he travels) to the satisfaction of all worthy of it. And while, on the back of two books, I have the impression that Cadfael is in some respects too perfect, the conclusions perhaps too neatly arranged at his urging, there is definitely satisfaction in the solutions he contrives.

In my own writing I have worried about endings – and worried rather more about them than I have written of them. I seek to find that balance, where the ending is satisfying, but not too tidy, because life in general isn’t tidy. In these Cadfael books I have read, the ending is eminently tidy, where the key players generally get what they deserve, murder victims excluded, and the younger characters end up in love with the right people. All ends with relatively little grief, except for those who are dead, and no expectation of future drama or imperfection. I think this leans a little too close to tidiness, the loose ends too neatly tied. It leaves it feeling too much like a story. In my own writing, while I certainly enjoyed the satisfaction of how one plotline in particular turned out, I would not imitate this wholly. A satisfyingly tied up plotline at one juncture is uplifting, but in all plotlines feels cheap, sickly sweet perhaps.

More visible here than perhaps in other books, what drives the story is questions to which both Cadfael and I as the reader want answers to. Not just who is the murderer, but several questions about who did what, went where, and why. Questions about how things will turn out, how Cadfael will get his answers, and how the mess of several linked situations will resolve themselves. I don’t tend to think, in my writing, about questions and answers, of mysteries and the revelations of their constituent parts. Maybe there’s a lesson to be drawn in this book about that.

There’s a lesson, too, in one particular character who in the first half of the book is set up to seem one thing, and only revealed, along with his motives, half way through to be quite different from expectations. His motivations were not at all what I expected, but were very human and ordinary. It was a reminder to me that characters don’t necessary have to act based on their ambitions and desires, working towards a personal goal, but can also have goals which are nothing to do with their larger ambitions and long-term hopes, which have an element of selflessness to them, but be no less important to them. I think when I write my characters lack that humanity. I get stuck into this idea of “this is what they want” and don’t leave space for nuance, for different motivations, for goals that have nothing to do with one another while being worked towards simultaneously.

I’ll definitely continue reading the Cadfael series; I’m enjoying the prose and the mystery of them. And in my writing going forward, there’s a little more for me to think about.