Catherine LeVendeur, expecting her third baby during the cold fall of 1147, can manage raising two children and running a household in Paris with her loving husband Edward, who is learning the mercantile trade from Catherine’s Jewish relatives. But she needs help when her dear friend Astrolabe appears on their doorstep. Astrolabe, son of famed lovers Peter Abelard and Heloise, had been “undercover” among a cult-like group of Breton heretics led by the deluded but harmless Eon when Cecile, a nun fleeing the debauched intentions of men under the command of a local Count, sought shelter with them. Before Cecile could be restored to a convent, a group of men attacked, capturing Eon. In the confusion, someone cut Cecile’s throat and left Astrolabe implicated. He fled to Paris, from whence Catherine and her family travel to the Paraclete Abbey in Champagne, where Heloise, Astrolabe’s mother and Catherine’s mentor, is abbess. From Champagne, Astrolabe and Catherine proceed to Reims for the papal Council, where, among other notable historical events, Eon will be tried for heresy. There, in a city overrun by ecclesiastical politics in the persons of clerics, aristocrats, and their respective entourages, they must uncover Cecile’s killer and protect Astrolabe from enemies who want him to burn at the stake for whatever looks likeliest.
A tale that comes alive in its second half, when Newman (To Wear the White Cloak, 2000, etc.) vividly describes the carnivalesque atmosphere of the Council at Reims. Despite some hints of a deus ex machina, a satisfying journey through medieval France.