In Vain: A Prequel to the Averillan Chronicles

Written by Barbara Reichmuth Geisler
Review by Trudi E. Jacobson

In 2004, Geisler published the first book in this series, Other Gods, followed shortly by Graven Images. I devoured both, and highly recommend them.

As this prequel opens, we meet Cecelia, a young noble girl whose father has recently died in the Crusades and whose older sister has been ordered by King Henry to marry the man Cecelia loves. She has a choice for her future: accede to the lusty wishes of the king, or follow his orders to become abbess of Shaftesbury. She rails against both these choices, but chooses the latter. Most of the book takes place 21 years later, in 1128. The Abbey has visitors: Cecelia’s half brother, who has spent much of his adult life protecting the recently deceased son of the Duke of Normandy, William Clito; Baudri de Brai, a knight and friend of Clito; and Baudri’s wife (former mistress of Clito) and her sister. When murder occurs, Cecelia’s half brother investigates, with the help of Dame Averilla.

The Duke’s son, William Clito, stands in the center of much of the action. But because he is offstage, and therefore a rather shadowy figure, I had a harder time becoming engaged in this book than in Other Gods and Graven Images. There are frequent flashbacks, which are clearly noted, but which disrupt the flow of the plot, even as they provide background information. Geisler incorporates her historical research gracefully, and the sense of period that I enjoyed earlier is evident.

The author does an excellent job of providing supporting material: a map of Shaftesbury and a plan of the Abbey, information on the nun’s daily schedule, a list of characters, notes on the real characters and historical elements of the story, a bibliography, a timeline, a glossary, and even a selection of 12th-century recipes!