Matronly mystic Margaret of Ashbury finally tames her formidable father-in-law in the final installment of Riley’s 14th-century trilogy.
Last time out (In Pursuit of the Green Lion, not reviewed), wealthy Margaret ransomed third husband Gilbert de Vilers from the French. Now that they’ve given Margaret’s feisty daughters a stepbrother (toddler Peregrine), Gilbert’s status with his neglectful father, Hubert de Vilers, has improved. This infuriates Petronilla, childless wife of dandified philanderer Hugo, Sir Hubert’s heir apparent. (Somewhat to the novel’s detriment, however, Petronilla proves a cartoonish villain posing no real threat whose punishment readers may find excessive.) After returning from Edward III’s latest failed campaign to reclaim the French throne, Gilbert is enjoying the bustling domesticity of Margaret’s London manor when his Pater barges in, angling to mortgage Margaret’s holdings for legal fees. An oak grove bordering Brokesford, the de Vilers estate, is the subject of a boundary dispute between Sir Hubert and a neighboring monastery. The grove houses a pond inhabited, it is said, by an ancient pagan sprite to whom the villagers sacrifice small tokens for good luck. Margaret won’t encumber her property and jeopardize her daughters’ dowries, but she’s willing to procure fake documents backing up Sir Hubert’s claims. Obliged to live at Brokesford until the lawsuit is settled, our resourceful heroine quickly becomes embroiled in local scandals. A priest has been swallowed by the whirlpool at the pond’s center, and a “succubus” lurks nearby to ensnare unwary men. When Margaret grapples with the water sprite to save her son, and Sir Hubert’s chivalrous instincts are reawakened by her daughters’ stately governess, can a happy ending be far behind?
The author’s wit and irreverent take on the period keeps sentimentality from swamping her tale.