The Lady Agnes Mystery, Volumes 1 and 2
Across these two volumes, translated from the original French, Andrea Japp tells the story of Lady Agnes de Souarcy, who we meet at the beginning of the tale as a sixteen-year-old widow and mistress of an impoverished manor. A murderer is at large, killing messengers from the Pope and poisoning nuns. Agnes is beset with dangers: she is framed for the murders, has to stave off the incestuous desires of her half-brother, and is then arrested by the sadistic Inquisitor, Florin, who is intent on proving her a heretic. A host of other fascinating and well-drawn characters surround her: the wise young orphan Clement, the passionate Abbess Eleusie, the gruff Apothecary Nun, the Knight Hospitaller, Leone and Comte Artus, who finds himself in love with Agnes. Her life is further threatened by a beautiful poisoner, by witchcraft and the venery of her daughter Mathilde. The evocation of the Inquisition cells is horribly vivid, as is the fraught atmosphere of the nunnery.
This is a complex and finely wrought tale requiring the reader to follow nimbly as layers of plot unfold around Agnes in Normandy and at Clairets Abbey, amidst the machinations of the Vatican and King Philip’s court in Paris. The mystery surrounding Agnes is reminiscent of Dan Brown or Kate Mosse, but Jappe makes this tale of Divine Blood her own. The denouement of so much mystery is wrapped up swiftly and a little anti-climatically. There are occasional glitches and oddnesses in the translation. The writing style at first struck me as peculiar and sometimes oddly indirect, as in its depiction of Agnes’s torture at the hands of the Inquisition for instance, but gradually the cadences of the language cast a spell, drawing me into the texture of this enthralling historical world. An excellent read.