The Brethren

Written by Robert Merle T. Jefferson Kline (trans.)
Review by Alan Cassady-Bishop

In the 16th-century Périgord region of France, two veteran soldiers of the French king’s Norman legion arrive, with the money and intention to retire to landowning and commerce. Antoine de Siorac and Jean de Sauveterre buy a small chateau called Mespech and, using their own hard work and wits, found a community which prospers over the years.

However, this is the time of famines, epidemics… and a budding religious war as the Catholic Church battles the Huguenot Protestants. While the region is quite far from Royal Authority, the Brethren (as the two warriors are known) find that their intention to avoid the conflict becomes increasingly difficult.

This is the first volume of an epic drama but can be read on its own. It is an excellently written novel which “feels” as if it relates to a real-life dynasty rather than to a well-researched construct of the author. The perils of the time – banditry, religious zealots, natural disasters – all feature, but in a way which is utterly believable. Told as an account of one of the Brethren’s sons, we are given an insight into the private lives of self-made men torn by loyalty to their nation and their religion.