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The Enchanter's Forest
Hawkenlye Mystery, Bk 10
Alys Clare

Hodder & Stoughton
March 2010 / ISBN 0340923865
Historical Mystery /England-1195

Reviewed by L J Roberts

First Sentence: In the forest the new season was flourishing.

The Abbess Helewise of Hawkenlye for the future of her Abbey. Much of their revenue comes from alms given by those who visit the Abbey for its healing waters. Now, however, Florian of Southfrith claims to have found the bones of Merlin and pilgrims are visiting there instead. The Abbess asks for the help of her friend Josse d’Acquin first to investigate the truth of his claim and, later, to find out who killed Florian.

Every time I watch an episode of Cadfael, I want to read Alys Clare as they are set in the same period and have a similar feel about them. Fortunately, I have all the books in the Hawkenlye series, so it’s an easy craving to satisfy.
Clare establishes a sense of time and place with descriptions that are vivid and evocative. Her dialogue is so well done, it is nearly audible. Her voice is distinctive and memorable; there is no question as to whose book I am reading.

The series need not be read in order as Clare is very good about establishing the back story for the principal characters. At the same time, with each book, I look forward to knowing the characters a bit better and see the relationships between them grow and change. Clare’s characters are ones with whom you become involved and invested; you want to know what will happen but in the way of friends rather than a soap-opera manner.

The story is a well-done blending of history and the “real” world with mythology and the magical world, including a very credible explanation for the legends of Merlin and King Arthur. I appreciated Josse’s skepticism of the bones found at Glastonbury being those of King Arthur and Guinevere, but it also served as a reminder of just how old is England’s history. Josse and the Abbess are firmly rooted in the real, yet accept the possibility of things for which there is no explanation whether from the old religion of the new. Joanna represents the old religion yet acknowledges non-mystical explanations for some things which occur. It is this extremely well-done balance which prevents the story from floating completely into the space of the paranormal.

Most of all, what draws me back, book-after-book, is the well-plotted mystery and just a cracking good story with a very interesting revelation. I’m ready for my next visit to Hawkenlye.

Reviewed 2011