This second book in the Averillan Chronicles series is set in 12th century Shaftesbury, at the Benedictine Abbey of nuns. A young woman is murdered, and the people of the town decide that Master Levitas, the Jewish moneylender and goldsmith, is responsible. While this plot provides the backbone of the novel, it is an extraordinarily rich book with multiple storylines. The language and descriptions give a strong sense of the period, and the characters are fascinating. The abbess, Emma, is slowly growing into her position of authority and attempting to cope with the abbey’s severe financial problems. Several of the nuns are adjusting to changes in their responsibilities, and some English residents of Shaftesbury are still grappling with the loss of lands and wealth under the Normans. (While this book can be read independently, I highly recommend reading Other Gods first, which takes place one year earlier and provides full introductions to many of the characters.) The precarious position of Jews in medieval England is vividly portrayed. A fascinating subplot involves Master Hugo, a renowned artist who has come to the Abbey to undertake a commission, the young boy who travels with him, and Hugo’s relationship with Levitas.
Geisler provides very useful supplementary material: maps of the town and abbey; the seven offices of psalms, with their times; a cast of characters; a glossary; and a section explaining key elements of the story, and where her fiction meets facts. The power this book held over me was such that I got up in the middle of the night to finish it—I could not fall asleep without finding out how things were resolved. I recommend it highly.