Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Gift of Sanctuary by Candace Robb

One reason I read Candace Robb’s medieval mystery series feature Welshman Owen Archer is her ability to tell intriguing and enjoyable stories with twisted plots and surprise endings. However, A Gift of Sanctuary didn’t quite measure up to the previous five novels. This work was more confusing than its predecessors. Here Robb tells the story from the viewpoint of several different parties, all bouncing back and forth across southwest Wales, chasing each other, missing each other, avoiding each other.

Owen has returned to his native Wales under the guise of recruiting archers for the Duke of Lancaster. His main purpose is to discover if the Welsh are sympathetic to the French King Charles to the point of letting him get a foothold on the British Isle from which to attack England.

Accompanying him is his ailing father-in-law who is on a pilgrimage to St. David’s, in southwest Wales. Owen plans to complete his mission quickly and return to his wife Lucie and their children in York. Unfortunately, his first contact fails to show up at the appointed rendezvous so Own continues west.

At the next stop on their journey, the village is abuzz with the news of a body found outside the castle gates earlier. The dead man is the one Owen was to meet. The bishop of the castle asks him to take the corpse to St. David’s where the man’s father is. He tells Owen that a monk will be with them on their journey. The enigmatic Father Edern appears to know much of Owen’s true purpose into Wales.

Perhaps if one is familiar with Welsh language, culture and geography, the book might not seem as confusing as I found it. The politics of that region during Owen’s journey were also difficult to follow.

Usually Robb depicts Owen with depth, feeling and character. Maybe after five novels, she doesn’t need to expand on him any more but he came across as flat and two-dimensional in this work. She did more characterization of Owen’s father-in-law Sir Robert, Geoffrey Chaucer and a Welsh bard.

Nevertheless, for fans of Owen Archer, A Gift of Sanctuary is a must-read.

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