Hawkenlye Abbey again plays home to misery and murder.
England, 1211. King John continues to squeeze his people and nobles for every penny he can get. One of the best at acquiring money and skimming some for himself is Lord Benedict de Vitré, a gross and impotent man whose very young wife has gotten Sabin de Gifford, apothecary and wife of the sheriff of Tonbridge, to provide her with tonics to keep him that way. When Benedict suddenly dies at dinner, Sabin panics and begs Meggie, the bastard daughter of Sir Josse d’Acquin and a powerful forest woman, to examine the body and assure Sabin that her potions did not cause his death. What Meggie finds is far worse—Benedict was stabbed to death with a thin knife—but neither woman says anything. In the meantime, Josse’s love, Helewise, former abbess of Hawkenlye, finds a young man dying in the forest; he had been on his way to help a reclusive noble with an unspecified adventure. Another local noble is stirring up sentiment against King John by using the words of a naïve monk and Lilas, a woman with dangerous visions whom Caliste, the current abbess of Hawkenlye, has asked Meggie to help. Just as they are about to bury Benedict, the wound is discovered. Both his wife and Sabin blame Meggie, who must hide in her forest hut until the killer is discovered. Although Josse and Helewise try to keep a low profile at their own forest home, they are forced to interfere in matters they would just as soon ignore.
The ninth in the Hawkenlye series (The Song of the Nightingale, 2012, etc.) continues the saga with the mixture as before: historical facts, colorful characters, a touch of mysticism and a soupçon of mystery.