The Errant Hours

Written by Kate Innes
Review by Richard Tearle

The French mistress of an important English noble lies dying in childbirth, and the only person who can help is Ursula, a local Shropshire midwife, who is also about to give birth. Ursula tends the woman despite the risk to herself. One baby lives but the other dies.

Some years later, Ursula’s daughter, Illesa, is struggling to hold their small farm together. Her elder brother, Christopher – Kit – is little help and has found himself in trouble again. All Illesa has are her wits and a valuable book her mother gave her about the life of Saint Margaret. After freeing Kit from prison and their hectic escape, Illesa finds herself in the company of Sir Richard Burnel, kin to the King’s Chancellor, who has been charged with organising the entertainment for a festival celebrating Edward I’s victory over the Welsh.

To say much more of the story might give too much away, but there are a number of twists and turns. Interspersed in the narrative are two further episodes: the martyrdom of Saint Margaret (or Marina) in  4th century AD Antioch, and a tale from Welsh history from the 6th century AD, which has relevance to the play that Sir Richard has chosen for the entertainment.

Kate Innes has indulged in meticulous research to take a little known (but factual) incident and bring all the threads of her wonderful story together. The writing is sharp and holds the attention throughout, and we really feel the pressure increase on Sir Richard as he struggles to ensure that his play is a success.

Very highly recommended.