Book Review: In Vain by Barbara Geisler

Barbara Geisler’s book In Vain just won the BAIPA (Bay Area Independent Publisher’s Association) award for best Historical Fiction. This is Barbara’s third book in her Averillian series about Sister Averilla at the Shaftsbury monastery 12th Century England. The other two books are Other Gods and Graven Images. In Vain is a prequel to the other books.

In Vain is a complex story and requires a bit of effort on the part of the reader. I found myself going to google for background information on the lineage of William the Conqueror and to the dictionary for the definations of a number of medieval English word like garth and reredos. It is well worth the effort to immerse yourself in the life of a medieval monastery, and in the history of post Norman Conquest England. The family of William the conqueror seems to have much in common with the family of Augustus Caesar. Your life is at peril just by being born into it.

 During his entire life William the Clito, son of Robert, Duke of Normandy, the eldest son of William the Conquerer, lives a life on the run, protected only by The Duke of Normandy’s retainer Tirel De Manieres. The King of England, Henry the Second had imprisoned his older brother Robert Duke of Normandy in a castle in Cardiff and would like nothing better than to be rid of his brother’s son, William the Clito. He gets his wish when young William dies of a wound at the battle of Alost. It seems, however that young William was enamoured of a young woman named Beatrice and had gotten her with child. Before he died he bade his best friend, Baudri De Brai, to marry Beatrice and keep her child safe. Even as an illegitimate descendant of William the Conqueror the child will be percieved as a threat by Edward the Second. De Brai and Beatrice are on their way to Cardiff to visit the imprisoned Robert of Normandy when they stop at Shaftesbury Abby. They are accompanied by Beatrice’s sister Sophena. The two sisters look alike except for the color of their eyes. Teril, the Clito’s former protector happens to be at the Abby, having come with a message to his half sister Cecily, the Abbess, from the Duke of Normandy. Beatrice, due to her pregnancy is unwell and eats very little, but when she partakes of the milksop which has been prepared especially for her, she suddenly begins to gag and retch and dies at the dinner table.

Is it an accidental poisoning or a delibrate murder? It is actually Beatrice that dies or could it have been her sister Sophena? Together, Teril, the Bailiff Robert Bradshaw, and the two nuns, sister Averilla and Sister Hermilinda sort through the evidence and try to unravel the mystery.
In addition to this fascinating tale of murder and intrigue in 12th cenury England, Barbara also provides the reader with three delicious recipes from the era, Soppes Dorre, Oat-Stuffed Pike, and Saumon Rosted.









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