Forsaken Soul: A Medieval Mystery
Poisoned Pen Press (2008)
Reviewed by Tyler R. Tichelaar for Reader Views (4/08)
“Forsaken Soul” is the fifth installment in Priscilla Royal’s Medieval Mystery series. I have not read the previous books in the series, but I was able to follow the plot without any problem. In the beginning, I had a little difficulty remembering who all the characters were, but I quickly caught on. Royal drops hints to events from previous books, and it is clear the characters have been developed over the series, so I may have missed some of the significance in their relationships, but I do not think anyone would have difficulty following the story.
The main characters of the book, at least those most involved in solving the murder, are Prioress Eleanor of Tyndal Priory, her monk, Brother Thomas, whom she secretly loves, and Crowner Ralf, a type of medieval lawmen whose job it is to bring justice to the community. The excitement begins when Martin the Cooper is poisoned at the village inn while coupling with the local whore. Because of her relationship with Martin, the whore is suspected as his killer, but it is soon revealed other people in the village may have equally had reason to kill Martin.
For me, the most fascinating part of the book was the depiction of Juliana, an anchoress at the priory. Anchoresses typically walled themselves up in a small room they never left and into which food was brought to them. They also had a window where people could come and speak to them of their sins and seek advice. Part of the mystery revolves around how the suspects have all at different times visited the anchoress, and because their visits are nocturnal, it is whispered the anchoress is not as pious as she may seem. Speculation in the village even suggests Satan himself had a hand in the murder.
The medieval setting did not distract me from the story, nor was it overly detailed; in fact, I would not have minded more historical detail. What makes the book interesting is the type of tools people used back then to commit murder, so different from most modern mysteries where guns and advanced technical and chemical weapons are used. The religious viewpoints of the characters were also strongly depicted, making the reader understand how they struggled to understand God and whether he had a hand in their daily lives or would punish sinners through murder.
I also greatly enjoyed reading the Author’s Notes, where she described her research into medieval England. While I would have liked more historical detail, Priscilla Royal clearly did her research on the time period and especially the religious occupations of the characters. Because of the intriguing historical setting and the original characters, I think any lover of mysteries or historical fiction will enjoy “Forsaken Soul.”