In the Shadow of the Enemy (A Christine de Pizan Mystery)
In late-14th century France, Charles VI “the Mad” rules. Many people, including his brother, the Duke of Orleans, may wish him off the throne for a variety of reasons. When a horrific accident at a masquerade ball causes four men to burn to death and the king to narrowly escape the same fate, everyone suspects his brother. But lady copyist and author Christine de Pizan sees something others didn’t: another torch, thrown far from the Duke. The Queen commands her to find out who wants the king dead. Aided by a colorful array of sidekicks, including a prostitute, a dwarf, and a deaf girl, Christine undertakes an investigation that leads her into the twisted politics of the court, and straight into the sights of a killer.
In the Shadow of the Enemy is the second in the Christine de Pizan series, but it was the first one I’ve read. That made no difference to my utter enjoyment of the book, though, as this story is a standalone. I adore the fact that Christine de Pizan, author of The Book of the City of Ladies, is the protagonist here. She is a complex character, and all the secondary characters are multifaceted as well. The mix of medieval attitudes towards people, including those deemed “defective,” and even towards Christine herself, is so realistic. The research that clearly went into the novel is apparent and appreciated. The imagery brings to life medieval France in an immediate way, from the descriptions of the court and its kitchens and gardens to the streets and their various inhabitants. The plot is pleasingly complex and includes a lot of history about French warfare, or at least one battle in particular. Overall, this is a fast, fairly light read and I happily recommend it.