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Carpe Librum

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Historical Novel Society

Review: Wine of Violence by Priscilla Royal

Wine of Violence: A Medieval Mystery (Medieval Mysteries) - Priscilla Royal

I would have never even known this book existed if it weren't for the recommendation of author extraordinaire, Sharon Kay Penman, and a 99c Kindle sale. Wine of Violence is a wonderfully written novel that takes place in the late 13th century. Hard feelings remain for the Saxons who were defeated long ago by the Normans, and Henry III has won a victory in the name of monarchial strength when Simon de Montfort was defeated. It is not a good time to be a villein. But this story isn't about the Norman Conquest or the Baron's Rebellion. It is about a quiet little priory on the East Anglican coast.


The reader is introduced to Tyndal Priory through the eyes of Eleanor, recently appointed Prioress, and Thomas, a man who has accepted the fate of being a monk because it's better than the alternative. As these two struggle to make their way as outsiders in this tight-knit community, they are also faced with a murder that takes place upon their arrival.


What I loved about this novel wasn't so much the mystery, though I thought it was well-written and not too predictable. It was the characters that drew me in. Each person has a complex, realistic personality with gifts and faults. The reader analyzes each nun and monk along with Eleanor and Thomas as they search for a killer and try to make their own way in a place that didn't ask to receive them.


The setting was accurately written to transport the reader into medieval times with descriptions of food, clothing, mindsets, and surroundings. The cold stones of the church, the struggle to feed the community through winter, concern over whether it was godly to use medicines and hand-washing in the hospital, and the rushes on the floors - each detail was evidence of the historical research that went into this little mystery.


My only complaint, if I must have one, are some surprisingly modern remarks made about homosexuality. While the author's note explains her research into this topic and the likely commonness of some homosexual relationships in an all-male religious community, I thought that the level of "can love ever be sinful" attitude was anachronistic. After all, this was a time when sodomy was a capital crime and believed to endanger the immortal soul. This was a relatively minor issue and the only anachronism I noted.


A great read for anyone who enjoys medieval fiction.