Wild Labyrinth (Arrowsmith Trilogy)

Written by Kate Innes
Review by Irene Colthurst

Watching their son Christopher receive a knighthood along with the Prince of Wales is a solemn event for Sir Richard and Lady Illesa Burnel, as the new English knights will be sent to fight the Scottish yet again in the first years of the 14th century. Illesa, a devout wife and mother to Christopher and his sister Joyce, notices how much one “player” in the hired entertainment resembles a long lost and ill-fated friend. When she learns that the player is the twin brother of that friend, she makes the fateful decision to invite him into her family’s life. Thus begins Wild Labyrinth by Kate Innes, a story of the harrowing journey Illesa and both her children then undergo to right themselves again, testing the faith that each has in humanity.

I once heard ordinary life in the ancient world compared to being in a horror movie, and Wild Labyrinth at times made me think the same could be said for the European medieval period. The novel is a medieval travel story, and rather good when the action is tightly sequenced. It does drag in other places, though. Mostly, this is due to the character of Illesa, who spends a lot of energy on repetitive verbal conflict with her two children. I do not want to think this, because middle-aged female heroines are rare and valuable, but Lady Burnel seemed to have little to her personality beyond exhorting and needling her son and daughter. As a result, the children’s characters also seem flatter.

Overall, I liked this novel of medieval Catholic England but I am not sure that I would pick it up again. Content warning for sex and violence.