The Troubadour’s Tale

Written by Ann Swinfen
Review by Patricia O'Reilly

The Troubadour’s Tale is the fifth book in Ann Swinfen’s 14th-century Oxford Medieval series. While this is a standalone story, it serves as an appetiser for the series, and I look forward to reading the remainder.

The Troubadour’s Tale tells of Nicholas Elyot’s family and friends journeying to spend Christmas in the country with his mother. He is an Oxford academic, bookshop owner and scrivener. His entourage travels by cart and on horseback. Shadows of the Great Pestilence still linger, and the country is in the grip of the little ice age. It is a time when bands of dispossessed and violent men roam the countryside, and the Elyot party does not escape their attentions.

Set against the backdrop of the politics of the Black Prince, the mystery centres on a group of troubadours from Provence coming to entertain at Leighton Manor and the importance of a letter carried by Azalais.

Yet the heart of the story lies in the details of domestic life – cooking, dishes, clothes, mending, and Swinfen’s ability to build on detail to create the whole picture. The history of the time is woven lightly throughout, and all sorts of delicious words and phrases crop up – mutton collops, strike-a-lights, cup-shotten (inebriated), rush dips and candle lanterns, assarts (dwellings) and alaunt (an extinct breed of dog).

This is a delightful story, the only disappointment being that Nicholas skirts around his affection for Emma. Perhaps in the sixth book of the series, he’ll commit?