The Rufus Spy: A Medieval Mystical Mystery
This is the eighth book in Alys Clare’s Aelf Fen series, set in East Anglia in the reign of King William II, heir to William the Conqueror. Young Lassair, its protagonist, is an apprentice healer, pregnant, unmarried, in love, and unsettled about all of it. She decides to take a break from her work in Cambridge and return to her home, “Aelf Fen,” deep in the as-yet undrained wetlands in East England. Before she leaves, Lassair’s mentor warns her that there were two recent murders on the road, and to be careful. Soon Lassair is ambushed by her former lover, Rollo, a spy who works for the king, who needs her help in escaping from an assassin.
The plot is satisfying on several levels—with Lassair wavering between the two men; the furious escape from the unknown and ruthless killer; and the mystery of who the murdered men were, and why were they killed.
I hadn’t read any of Clare’s books before this one and was happy to find a new author. No doubt it would be best to read the books in order, but this story stood on its own. Clare made the lost landscape of the marshy fens an achingly real character in its own right, and the “mystical” in the subtitle turned out to be just the right amount. Lassair has a believable gift for healing and some “sight,” but not so much that she was protected from the dangers that pressed in on her and Rollo. Clare ties up all the loose ends and yet leaves Lassair in a prime position for a sequel. Well done.