A dangerous mission and a reluctant princess.
Hoping to retrieve the letters she once wrote to Thomas Becket, the murdered Archbishop of Canterbury, Eleanor of Aquitaine sends Princess Alais of France to England. The letters were hidden within the altar of the cathedral—but how did they get there? That proves to be a very complicated story, involving the intertwined histories of the French and English royal families and a lot of skulking about in stone corridors. The mysterious Knights Templar have something to do with it as well and clank around making mischief—including, at one point, kidnapping the princess. Though newcomer Healey, whose passion, we’re told, is medieval history, does her best to simplify matters, the endless exposition, much of it embedded in dialogue, can be rather confusing. Suffice it to say that Princess Alais has some experience at keeping secrets, having given birth years ago to a bastard child whose fate she never learned. Eleanor of Aquitaine hints that she has knowledge of this—the unfortunate event ended Alais’s betrothal to Richard the Lionhearted, and the princess, perforce, returned to France. And Eleanor, not the most tenderhearted of queens, prevails. The princess begins her journey, aided by loyal retainers she remembers from her years at the court of King Henry of England, Eleanor’s second husband. There’s more skulking about, followed by a torrent of explanations from assorted characters on medieval history, art, religious belief, society, and politics. The letters? Not where she was told to look . . . . The heroine, who obviously would have been a devout Catholic, seems never to have been in a church before and notes with some astonishment that images from “the Christian belief system” decorate the columns of Canterbury Cathedral. To the story’s detriment, other pedantic asides proliferate.
Intriguing premise, stifled by a scholarly obsessiveness.