Monday, May 21, 2012

Review of The Cross-legged Knight by Candace Robb

I enjoyed reading Candace Robb’s The Cross-legged Knight, the seventh in the Owen Archer series, more than the previous two novels, A Gift of Sanctuary and A Spy for the Redeemer. Both of those stories dealt with Owen traveling through his native Wales on a pilgrimage with his father-in-law Sir Robert. They were a bit confusing and I had to go back and re-read sections to be sure that I had read them correctly. This book seems to return to the intriguing and fast-paced mysteries that I have come to expect from Robb.

In The Cross-legged Knight, Owen has long returned to York but he and his wife Lucie are mourning the miscarriage of their baby, when Lucie fell from a stool while working in her apothecary. Their family is put under more stress when the Bishop of Winchester, William of Wykeham arrives in York, thinking that he is in mortal peril. A powerful family of a knight blames him for the knight’s death in a French prison, accusing him of dragging his feet in the negotiations with France and offering half the sum the family gathered to ransom him. While he is observing the building of the lady chapel, a piece of tile nearly smashes into his skull. Then his townhouse is burned to the ground by a suspicious fire. A servant is badly burned but a mysterious woman dies in the blaze. Thus, Wykeham assigns Owen to assure his safety.

Owen detests the man but Archbishop Thoresby manages to keep his feathers from getting too ruffled and Owen carries out his duties begrudgingly. The archbishop feels pulled in two different directions since his friend Wykeham is now enemies with the powerful Duke of Lancaster, with whom Thoresby is allies.

Owen continues his investigations, learning more about the woman who died in the fire and helped by Lucie, trying to move past her grieving and get back to health to take care of her family and business.

An underlying theme to The Cross-legged Knight could be aging. I don’t know whether Robb included it on purpose but several characters deal with the problems of growing old. Archbishop Thoresby reflects frequently that he is an old man and wonders what he has done with his life as a cleric. Lucie’s elderly aunt Phillipa, although is lucid much of the time, still has bouts of sleep-walking and dementia. A maid to the Dale family is losing her eyesight as she gets older. Lucie herself wonders at one point if her child-bearing days are over. The river woman Magda is elderly and people wonder how she manages at her advanced age. It is inevitable that characters age but in this book they seem to age before the readers’ eyes.

I suppose my preference to this novel over the past two is having Owen in York, working together with Lucie to investigate a mystery. While in Wales, he was tempted to rejoin the Welsh in their battle against the English, something Owen nearly gave into and Thoresby is well aware of. Maybe it’s because I don’t like seeing one my literary heroes being sorely tempted as he was.

Whatever the reason, The Cross-legged Knight is a return to the familiarity of fourteenth century York and the magic of the Robb novels.

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