Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Sanctuary Sparrow by Ellis Peters

The Sanctuary Sparrow (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #7)The Sanctuary Sparrow by Ellis Peters
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Format: Audio
Narrated by: Vanessa Benjamin
Original Publication Date: 1983
Genre(s): Historical (Middle Ages), Mystery
Series: The Cadfael Chronicles, Book 7

This book starts with a jolt - a murderous mob chasing a skinny, wretched young man into sanctuary at the Monastery church. This young man, whose name is Lilliwen, is a traveling musician, juggler and acrobat and the mob believes he has murdered (though the man is not,in fact, dead) and stolen from a local wealthy goldsmith. Despite the fact that the goldsmith lives, all is not right in his home and soon his neighbor and his elderly but strong-willed mother are dead. Cadfael believes Lilliwen, the sanctuary sparrow, to be innocent and investigates with Hugh Beringar to find the real culprit.

Another great installment though it felt slightly different from the others in the series. It has a more domestic focus and Cadfael seems more absent than usual. We also get to spend some time with another brother of the monastery, Brother Anselm.

This seventh book in the series was especially interesting to me for the look it gives into the domestic arrangements of a “middle class” home in the Middle Ages. The household has been run competently for many years by the goldsmith’s spinster daughter Susannah but the son and heir of the house, Daniel, has just married.  Daniel’s new wife, Marjorie, is rather interesting. She is described as being homely but of pleasant demeanor and coming with a good dowry. We soon find that she is also a strong woman who sets about taming her wayward husband without him even knowing its happening and sets up a confrontation with Susannah for control of the household. I liked Marjorie, though she is not always portrayed in the kindest light. It was interesting to see,through her, Susannah and the old matriarch of the house, how women did exert some levels of power and control despite their seemingly low status in society.

I also very much admired how Susannah was portrayed. I was definitely sympathetic to her situation while also feeling how her treatment had warped her character to a degree that she could no longer feel much of anything for others. The scene of confrontation between her and Marjorie is particularly well done as you see the justice of Marjorie’s claims but also feel the injustice of Susannah being so discarded. It becomes more intriguing when we know that Susannah at this point should not care that she must give up her role and so her reasons for arguing are cloudy… is it bitterness, playacting or a little of both?

I definitely enjoyed this one. This is the second book read by Vanessa Benjamin and in my mind she has improved as a narrator though I am still not crazy about the voice she gives Cadfael.

What do you think of this series of mysteries?  How do you think this one fits in the series? What did you think of Marjorie and her manipulative ways - like her or hate her?

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