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Carpe Librum

Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.


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Historical Novel Society

The Bookseller's Tale by Ann Swinfen

The Bookseller's Tale - Ann Swinfen

This novel was pure pleasure. I find that I have increasingly less time to read books that I have chosen just for the joy of them, but this was one of them. In fact, I became so caught up in the story of tender Nicholas Elyot that I moved immediately on to the next in the series, The Novice's Tale. Unfortunately, now I am left simply hoping that Swinfen writes the next book quickly, because I am hooked.


By setting the tale in 1353 Oxford, the author is able to explore some wonderful story elements. Besides the thoroughly lovable characters, the reader is introduced to a city of learning at a time when books were scripted and bound by hand, death has devastated the country, and some see the way of life changing as labor proves scarce. Through Elyot's amateur investigation of a young scholar's murder, we are treated to an intimate look at 14th century Oxford and its surrounding countryside.


The plague has passed, but it's shadow looms. "For those of us who survived, there remained a lingering fear of ever allowing ourselves to love anyone again, so fragile is life, so terrifying the sudden loss." Throughout both books, this theme of being careful where love is spent lies underneath the mystery. Nicholas lost his wife to the plague after he had given up a bright future for her. However, he never regrets his decision for a moment.


Nicholas is thoughtful, devout, hardworking, generous, and about as perfect a man as one could hope for, as long as one is attracted to the soft-spoken man who is more attuned to the scent of ink and parchment than the gleam of sun upon a sword blade. I found myself wishing that I could visit his bookshop and watch his scriveners at work. His joy at discovering an expertly done illumination was contagious. His love of books is second only to his devotion to his family and friends.


Against this wonderful backdrop, Swinfen paints a murder scene that tugs the heartstrings and awakens the cry for justice no less in the reader than in dear Nicholas. He was not prepared for the journey that he was set upon when he discovered a body in the twisting river enveloping his town, but I, for one, am enjoying being a part of his adventures.