I had the pleasure of reading Tony Hays' The Killing Way (also
reviewed on Myshelf) when it
came out last year. I had at first assumed that it was a standalone, from the satisfying way
the ending seemed to resolve things. Instead, it's the beginning of a series
and—impressively—one in which the second outing is even better that the first.
The Divine Sacrifice is much more than a rewrite of The Killing Way with some
details changed, as happens too often these days. Itís a completely different story, set in
different circumstances, which may involve some of the same people but also reflects that
these people have changed and developed a great deal since the opening pages of book one...
just as they would have in real life. I think itís an even richer, more satisfying and
exciting read than its predecessor, which is saying something.
The series is labeled "Arthurian Mysteries." If you, like me, have trouble buying into the
usual Arthurian fiction concept of some epic fantasy hero living in a castle out of Disney,
donít make the mistake of thinking that applies here. You wonít have any trouble believing in
this, the historical Arthur, an entirely human, charismatic war leader who is very much a man
of his gritty, early medieval times. Memorable characterization is one of the bookís greatest
strengths, a standout even over the superb plotting, the evocative, smoothly effective writing,
and the solid historical detail. The story is filled with complex people you care about and
believe in, remembering them long after words and plot details have started to fade. That starts
with series hero Magwyn ap Cuneglas, a farmer turned berserker soldier / military advisor, turned
bitter drunkard after losing a hand in battle, returned to a position of respect in Arthurís court
through the events of the first book.
Arthurís plans for a formal visit to Ynis-witrin (Glastonbury) to talk with church leaders and
remind an iffy ally that he is being watched are upgraded to urgent when a monk is found murdered
there. The abbey is where Magwyn first developed a reputation for solving puzzles during his
convalescence and they need him now. Discovering who killed Brother Elafius means first
discovering why he was killed, something that seems to have as many reaching tentacles as an octopus,
and more besides. Some of which involve possible threats to Arthurís reign, while others seem to
have ties to Saint Patrick and the heresy he has come to the abbey to investigate. Before he can
even begin to figure out which ones contain the answers he needs, Malgwyn will need all his skills
just to unearth all the secrets seemingly everyone at the abbey is hiding.
A highly recommended entry in what has fast become one of my favorite new historical mystery
series. Well written, intricately plotted, gritty and real, filled with fascinating people and a
"you are there" depiction of its setting, all in a story whose mysteries are solved through
genuine detective work—something that fails to occur in a surprising number of mystery
novels these days. I canít wait to see what Tony Hays comes up with next.