I selected this book on Netgalley as I enjoy well-told historical mysteries – and this one looked interesting.
September, 1216. A foreign army has invaded England. The country is divided. Some support the rebel barons and Prince Louis of France; others remain loyal to the king. His rule under threat, King John summons Sir Josse d’Acquin to support him. But can Sir Josse save the king from himself? Meanwhile, Josse’s daughter Meggie is summoned to Hawkenlye Abbey to attend a sick patient in a very distressed state. The elderly woman is warning of terrible danger unless she can complete her mission. What she learns from her patient will set Meggie on a perilous journey to retrieve a cursed treasure. But will she be in time to prevent a tragedy?
This was an impressive blunder even by my standards – to find myself reviewing the final instalment in a seventeen-book series – and it is to Clare’s credit that I was able to crash into this world without any undue floundering whatsoever. While I am sure I would have better appreciated the characters and their final outcomes had I read the previous books, there was no stage where I felt unduly adrift. Indeed, the strength of the book for me are the characters and the worldbuilding, which is excellent. Clare manages to evoke the uncertainty of times and I very much enjoyed the way we get an insight into both sides of this conflict. I was particularly impressed with the characterisation of King John, who has always seemed to be an interesting character full of contradictions. The famous scene at The Wash was described with suitable drama and pulled me into the story – I only wish that we had spent more time following the King, rather than other aspects of this tale.
It is also a treat to read a story where religion and its impact on everyday life is fully acknowledged – I get a tad fed up with stories set in these times when it is all about the swordplay and lack of modern amenities, yet somehow omitting how much people prayed and looked to God for guidance throughout the day.
The protagonists in this unfolding story are all well depicted and cover a range of ages – another plus for me, as I rarely get to see my own age group represented as a main character in this type of story. However, one of my misgivings is the huge amount of freedom the main female characters seem to have. Helewise is able to retreat to a small cottage in a wood – despite being the wife of a landowner. She would be responsible for running the house and trammelled by a host of tasks that modern women would not have to consider, even if she had a number of servants performing chores for her – especially if she had a number of servants. Likewise Meggie is also able to wander off on an adventure, leaving the Forge and adjoining home shut up and idle. It simply wasn’t an option. Most households had a pig and chickens, along with a piece of land that would need tending to keep producing food for the table. The Queen’s experience would be the lot of most women of the time – and while she may well have felt frustrated at being so confined, it would not be unusual for high-born women to be kept tucked away in fortified homes and castles, given the custom of kidnapping noble family members and holding them as surety or ransom.
However, the one issue with this book that did compromise my enjoyment of the story is the lack of narrative tension. Due to the title and cover art – the reader already has a very good idea what the cursed object is, while Clare writes the story as if this is part of the mystery. It wasn’t a dealbreaker, as there was much else to enjoy about this tale – but a shame that this fundamental issue wasn’t addressed at some stage during the book’s production process. However, I will be looking out for more books in this series and am pleased to have discovered another talented author.
While I obtained the arc of The Devil’s Cup from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.