As the installments have progressed – this is the eighth such one – Newman has focused more intensely upon the discord within Christian ranks and the growing hatred against the Jews so evident in twelfth century France. Catherine LeVendeur, Newman’s protagonist, is a complex character: a devout, learned Christian, molded by her mentor Abbess Heloise of the Paraclete, steeped in the religious doctrine imparted to her by Peter Abelard – and the daughter of a Jewish merchant as well. Catherine’s fear for her family if her Jewish heritage is discovered is always right below the surface.
One more layer is added in this installment. Catherine, her husband Edgar and her cousin Solomon are all close friends with Astrolabe, the son of Abelard and Heloise. When Astrolabe is maliciously targeted in the death of a young nun, it falls to Catherine (of course) to save her friend and to uncover the roots of the mystery. Is the murder merely a cover-up for the deeper, darker purpose of destroying Astrolabe because he is Abelard’s son?
While the book is chock full of religious dialectic, the reader isn’t excluded from feeling the intensity of the debates raging in twelfth century France or, on a more personal level, feeling a growing bond to Catherine. Fear is everywhere – from the homes of the hated Jews, to the despair of women who are used merely to make alliances by marriage, to Catherine’s very real parental hysteria about her children’s well-being in the face of possible plague. A novel well worth the read.