Hello dear reader(s)! I hope you are doing well and that you’ve somehow managed to cope with the heat. If like me you just want this heat wave to be over, hold fast. As they say: this too shall pass. Until then distract yourself with another summer instalment of Nessa reads books and writes reviews (NRBWR). I really should come up with a better title for this, or at least a shorter one… Nessa reads and reviews? What do you think about that? Well it’s short and to the point, so I should keep it. But onward to the review.
As is the case with almost any book that I read, I stumbled into Catherine Hanley’s Edwin Weaver series by accident. If I remember correctly historian Greg Jenner retweeted Hanley’s tweet about the publication of her latest Edwin Weaver novel, and down the Google hole I went. 🙂 Intrigued by the synopsis I downloaded a free chapter of the 1st book in the series The Sins of the Father on my e-reader (Kobo Aura H2O 2nd edition if you were curious) and started reading just to see if it would interest me enough to start the series. Spoiler alert: it did. 🙂 I bought the whole series and dug in.
Catherine Hanley has a PhD in Medieval Studies, and in addition to writing an excellent medieval murder mystery series, she also writes non-fiction historical books and articles. You can and absolutely should read more about doctor Hanley on her website, so please check it out. You won’t be disappointed, trust me! Regarding the series itself, currently it consist of 5 books, but I believe more will follow. The books in chronological order are The Sins of the Father, The Blood City, White Sepulchres, Brother’s Blood and Give up the Dead. All of the published books in the series are set in 1217 England which is torn by civil war. They follow the commoner Edwin Weaver of Conisbrough who is in the service of William de Warenne, the 5th Earl of Surrey. The 1st and 3rd book are set in Conisbrough Castle in Yorkshire, the 2nd deals with the siege of Lincoln, the 4th is set in Roche Abbey and gives off a distinct The Name of the Rose vibe. The last book in the series so far is set on the south coast of England and part of the plot depicts the Battle of Sandwich.
I won’t go into plot details of all the books in the series; you can look up the summaries of each book on Goodreads. Instead, as always, I will give you my thoughts and opinions about the series itself. First of all, if you enjoy very complex and innovative murder mysteries that keep you at the edge of your seat and engage you in the plot, this won’t be your cup of tea. Honestly, the crime aspect of the book is kind of average. Don’t get me wrong it’s not terrible by any means, it’s well written… It’s just the least interesting part of the book. You start reading with a preconception that the series is going to be some sort of innovative, Byzantine murder mystery series, just set in Medieval England. But as you keep reading you realise that the magic of this series isn’t the in the criminal aspect, instead it is hidden in the mundane, everyday life of the characters.
Hanley’s depictions of everyday life in Medieval England of 1217 are vivid and engaging. I found myself enjoying those the most and going over them many times because they were so fascinating and educational. Those were my favourite parts of the book. Additionally, all the characters are well developed according to the time period the series is set in. They are captivating and alien at the same time. Occasionally it is difficult to understand and reconcile attitudes, beliefs and behaviour of a person that was born in the 20th or 21st century to the medieval characters depicted in the novel. The characters’ beliefs, behaviour and thought processes can be frustrating and strange to us who are used to seeing the world in a different way than they were and that’s where doctor Hanley’s skills come into the spotlight.
Catherine Hanley managed to make a fascinating historical novel that can captivate the reader and at the same time inform and educate her about the chosen period in the Middle Ages and about everyday life of the people in that period. At the end of each book doctor Hanley gives a short overview of the historical period, the real people she depicted in the novel along with an explanation of the topics she dealt with in the novel. Personally, one of the most fascinating things in those overview parts comes from the 4th book in the series Brother’s Blood. A side character has an identical twin brother and both of them are monks in the Roche Abbey. Hanley masterfully described the reaction when a medieval person encounters identical twins for the first time along with the period’s attitudes regarding identical twins. It’s a fascinating and insightful read.
Wrapping up: the Edwin Weaver series might not be the best or complex crime mystery you’ll ever read. If you’ve read historical fiction you’ll occasionally be reminded of other works that you’ve read. However, this series is absolutely worth the read regardless of the averageness of the mystery. The time period, the setting of the series and the characters are what make this series so enchanting and interesting to read. Edwin Weaver series is like the medieval version of Midsomer Murders. No one watches Midsomer Murders because the high complexity of the murder case. You watch it ‘cause you like the setting and the characters and you are invested in them. And it’s a really good story, as is this series. If you like historical fiction and you’re interested in the everyday life in the Middle Ages, and you’d like a sprinkle of crime and mystery on top of that then Hanley’s Edwin Weaver is an excellent read and I wholeheartedly recommend it! Until next time dear reader(s)!
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