The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Deeply rooted in the turmoil of the war between Empress Maud and King Stephen in the 1100s, The Virgin In The Ice poses Brother Cadfael with a number of puzzles: a frozen angel, a wounded monk, and missing young nobles whose guardian is on the wrong side of the fighting. These mysteries collide with the threatening presence of a band of marauders.
As ever, this episode in Cadfael's chronicles is steeped in history and poetry, written with a thoughtful, pensive air - eminently appropriate for events seen through the monk's penetrating eyes. (That this extends to the other point of view characters merely maintains the cohesion of the novel.) That the mystery is perhaps less important to this novel than to others in the series makes it no less compelling a story. There is also a secondary "mystery" that offers an important and satisfying revelation into Cadfael's history.
However, there are certain patterns to these novels that can be viewed as detractions, and it is nowhere more evident than during the battle scene of this book. The writing style can best be described as elegant detachment - neither of which makes for a compelling fight or fights. This takes away somewhat from the climax of the scene.
That said, this book delivers a solid and satisfying reading experience overall ... and ends with a warming note of hope, for all the darkness.
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