The Riverwoman’s Dragon (An Owen Archer mystery, 13)

Written by Candace M. Robb
Review by Fiona Alison

This thirteenth in the Owen Archer series begins in York in 1375. The pestilence draws closer, and dread permeates the town and its outskirts, where the poor are cared for by Magda Digby. Hailing from a long line of healers knowledgeable in the efficacy of plants, and gifted with the sight, Magda resides on a rock in the river Ouse, watched over by her dragon and some local lads, but never enters the town. As the Death encroaches further, the archbishop orders the parish priests to shun the local healers upon whom the citizens have relied for centuries, chastising the people for their sins.

When the body of a factor is found floating in the Ouse, fingers point at Magda, and Owen Archer, the city captain charged with defending all citizens, vows to guard her welfare, although Magda needs little protection. Owen, called ‘Bird-Eye’ by Magda for his lack of an eye, has healing skills and powerful intuition of his own. The arrival of Magda’s estranged daughter, Asa, who shunned her mother’s gentle teaching in favour of charms and spells, and the leech, Bernard, falsely claiming to be a healer, triggers unpleasant events, and Owen must sort truth from lies.

Robb’s timely story strikes close to home; the fear incited by the priests is similar to that provoked by government and multimedia today. Neighbours are eyed with suspicion, anger and resentment, midwives beaten in the street, people shunned for their beliefs. Magda’s Quaker-like thee, thou and thy speech pattern is delightful, and her referral to herself as Magda, rather than I or me, endeared me to her. Dialogue throughout the book is era-appropriate and helps set the tone. The healer has only appeared briefly in one of the early Archer books, but I would welcome seeing her return. An informative and engaging murder mystery, very well told.