Monday, May 27, 2013

The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters

The Virgin in the Ice (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #6)The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Format: Audio
Narrated by: Vanessa Benjamin
Original Publication Date: 1982
Genre(s): Historical (Middle Ages), Mystery
Series: The Cadfael Chronicles, Book 6

The Civil War that has been threatening between King Stephen and Empress Maude starts in earnest, sending refugees fleeing in all directions. A trio of refugees; a young, noble sister and brother and a nun; have disappeared into the snowy English countryside of 1139.

As with all the books I’ve read in this series there are many threads to follow. I almost felt bad for Cadfael and Hugh having to track down all those threads in the bitter cold and snow. There are: a missing brother and sister (the Hugonins), a battered and amnesiac monk with a secret he doesn’t even know he carries, a defiled and murdered nun encased in ice, a mysterious knight roaming the countryside, strangely secretive and serving as guardian angel to the Hugonins and a band of brigands taking advantage of the chaos of war to pillage and plunder. As soon as one of Hungonins is found the other disappears. Somehow amidst all this Hugh and Cadfael stay calm and all the various threads are neatly tied by the end with plausible and interesting solutions. Cadfael even has something personally important that he didn’t expect or look for revealed to him.

The more I read of this series, the more impressed I become of Peters dexterous weaving of multiple story threads and her creation of a new cast of thousands for each book. Cadfael and a few other regulars keep us in familiar territory while the new characters make each book fresh. I know that many mystery series operate like this but I think she does a particularly good job of creating new characters that are distinct and believable. In this book in particular there were many mysteries to solve and revelations to be had so there is never a dull moment.

I very much enjoyed this one and it compares well with The Leper of St. Giles which was also exceptionally well done.

The narrator for this book changed from the two previous and to my mind not for the better. I got used to Vanessa Benjamin but really don’t like the voice she gives to Cadfael – I much preferred Johanna Ward’s attempt at a Welsh lilt for him. Many of Vanessa Benjamin’s men sound very much alike. Also the audio quality was not as good but that may have been related to my downloading it from the library.

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