Book Review: “Forest of Secrets” by Fiona Buckley

55873447The year is 1586 and Ursula Blanchard is on a mission to protect Queen Elizabeth I. After returning home from a previous mission, Ursula and her household come into contact with a countrywoman named Etheldreda Hope who has brought a peculiar case to the forefront. In the forest by the village that Etheldreda calls home, there have been strange rituals occurring that include reference to an evil queen. Are these rituals harmless or is there a sinister motive behind the beliefs of the pagans who meet in the forest? Will Ursula and her household solve the case in time? This is the premise of Fiona Buckley’s latest Ursula Blanchard Tudor mystery, “Forest of Secrets”.

I would like to thank Severn House Publishers and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. This was my first time reading a novel by Fiona Buckley and I was intrigued by the plot. I was looking for a new Tudor mystery series after finishing the Shardlake series, so I decided to give this series a try.

What I did not know when I went into this series was that this was part of the Ursula Blanchard series and it was book nineteen. Not the greatest place to start a new series, but I still decided to give it a try. Ursula is an older noblewoman who works for Sir Francis Walsingham to protect Queen Elizabeth I from threats, like Mary Queen of Scots. By her side is her loyal household who are willing to risk their lives to help Ursula solve the cases that she has been assigned by the royal court.

This particular case was given to her by a woman named Etheldreda who has an interesting problem. She has been declared a witch by her village because her mule gave birth to a foal. Because of this, no one believes her when she says that there have been peculiar rituals occurring in the New Forest. She turns to Ursula and her team to help solve this mystery.

Personally, I did have some issues with this novel. It was difficult for me to get attached to the cast of this novel. I know that this was because I started this series very late so I don’t know the relationships between Ursula and her household.

Another issue that I had was that I didn’t feel like this book was set in the Tudor times. It seems weird to say for a novel that is set in 1586, but with the jargon and the descriptions that Buckley included, you could have easily exchanged characters from different time periods and it would have made sense. When I want to read a Tudor novel, I want to feel like I am transported into the past. With this novel, I just felt like I was reading a novel not set in a particular time period.

Overall, I thought this novel was okay. Buckley has obviously written a world that is beloved, but it was difficult to navigate in that world. I think I will need to read the rest of the Ursula Blanchard series before I reread this book. If you are a fan of the Ursula Blanchard series, you will enjoy “Forest of Secrets” by Fiona Buckley.

Book Review: “Murder in the Cloister” by Tania Bayard

55421664The year is 1399 in Paris and the royal family is concerned about the Priory in Poissy. Something has happened behind the cloistered walls and only one person who is extremely loyal to the king and queen can figure out what is amiss, Christine de Pizan the famous medieval writer. Christine goes to Poissy to act as a copyist for the prioress, but she soon finds herself in the middle of a sinister murder case. A nun has been found dead and it is up to Christine and her allies, plus one frenemy, to figure out who killed the nun while protecting the king’s youngest daughter who calls the priory home. Can Christine figure out who murdered the young nun and make it out of the priory alive? This is the premise of Tania Bayard’s latest installment of her Christine de Pizan murder mystery series, “Murder in the Cloister”.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Severn House Publishers for sending me a copy of this novel. When I was browsing, the cover is what drew my attention. I had not heard of this series or of Tania Bayard before reading this novel. I did not know that this book was part of a series until I started reading it. I have heard about Christine de Pizan and her writing legacy, but I sadly knew nothing about her family life and her connection to King Charles V, King Charles VI, and Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, which would have been useful information to know before reading.

We begin this novel with Christine surrounded by her family and her mother. We find out that Christine is a single mother now as her husband has recently passed away and she is trying to earn money through her writing. As the daughter of Thomas de Pizan, the famous astrologer to King Charles V, she has earned the trust of the royal family. King Charles VI, who is suffering from some sort of mental malady, and his wife Queen Isabeau of Bavaria have asked Christine to go to the Priory in Poissy to copy a manuscript for the prioress and to visit her daughter Marie. She is allowed to bring her son Thomas, but the queen insists on Henri le Picart, a man who Christine despises, to come along and protect her. I found Henri’s character annoying with how he belittles women and their abilities, but he did have some redeeming qualities as the story went along.

I found the actual murder investigation a bit slow for my taste. Bayard tends to focus on the subplot of sorcery a bit too long. I wanted an action-packed adventure full of danger and intrigue, like a novel by CJ Sansom or Toni Mount, but the action fell flat for me. I think Bayard was able to describe the priory and the inner workings very well and the characters were all well written and dynamic. As someone who jumped into this series rather late, it took me a while to figure out the relationship between the characters and what happened in previous cases, which is imperative in solving this particular case.

Overall, I found this medieval murder mystery rather enjoyable. I have not read many medieval novels set in France and I have not read anything about Christine de Pizan, so it was different yet intriguing at the same time. If you want to read this series, I would suggest starting at the very beginning. If you are however familiar with the life of Christine de Pizan and this series, I think you will find, “Murder in the Cloister” by Tania Bayard rather enjoyable and a great medieval escape from reality.