book reviews by Althea

The Dragon of Handale – Cassandra Clark ****

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(Abbess of Meaux #5)

This was my first book by Cassandra Clark, and I had a bit of trepidation seeing that it was fifth in a series. However, I was in the mood for a medieval mystery…

I needn’t have worried. Clark introduces the characters and their backgrounds with smooth grace, ‘catching up’ the reader without ever giving you that ‘info-dump’ feeling. Well done. And then, the drama starts…

Hildegard of York is a former nun, clearly used to being in a position of authority, who’s currently ambivalent about whether she should re-enter a convent or continue on in secular life. Her former prioress suggests that she stay a while at remote Handale Priory while she makes her decision.

However, once ensconced at Handale, Hildegard begins to wonder if there was a hidden agenda involved in sending her there. Handale is a place for penitents – in practice, a kind of prison for sinning nuns. Life there is harsh.

Everywhere she looks, Hildegard’s sharp and inquiring mind sees suspicious activity. There’s a strange rumor of a vicious ‘dragon’ outside the priory walls. Without question, a mason, one of a group hired to do work for the abbey, has been brutally murdered. The woman in charge seems venal and cruel. Young novices are desperate to escape. And what is a wealthy merchant doing within the walls?

Hildegard realizes that there could be a reasonable explanation for all the strange incidents she’s encountering… but she feels like it’s her job to get to the bottom of what’s going on at Handale. Her investigation will range from small and personal injustices right up to high affairs of state and the politics of the realm.

Well-crafted and highly entertaining. I’d recommend this to all fans of the medieval mystery genre.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinion is solely my own.


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