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Book Talk: Medieval age inspires

The medieval age remains an incredibly rich tapestry that continues to greatly influence contemporary Western civilization. It also provides an almost unparalleled setting for stories of virtually every genre.

The Religion (2007) by Tim Willocks is a swashbuckling epic set adventure that plunges readers into another world and time, a compelling tale of romance, courage and religious conflict on the island of Malta during the 16th century. The epic story details the medieval exploits of Capt. Matthias Tannhauser, a Saxon soldier of fortune with carnal appetite and a droll irreverence, and his unlikely journey to help French countess Carla La Penautier rescue her illegitimate son now trapped in a fundamentalist bloodbath between Christians and Muslims on Malta, an island under one of the most bloody and spectacular sieges in military history.

Mattias, Carla and their companions must not only confront the invading Ottoman empire but a rogue Roman Inquisitor who happens to be the father of Carla’s lost child. Mattias and Carla do not even know the name of the boy, taken from her at his birth 12 years ago.

The Religion is an epic novel and the first book in an epic trilogy. It is like a panel in a Renaissance triptych and is a vivid depiction of a world on the cusp of modernity. But like all great tales the characters are richly drawn, even flawed, and this imparts a gripping quality to the epic that even transcends the plot.

The Doomsday Book (1992) by Connie Willis, a multiple Hugo-and-Nebula-award-winning author, is a storytelling triumph, a blend of classic science fiction and historical reconstruction. Kivrin, a history student at Oxford in 2048, travels back in time to a 14th century English village, at a time dangerously close to the onset of the Black Plague. When the technician responsible for the procedure falls prey to a 21st century epidemic, he accidentally sends Kivrin back not to 1320 but 1348 — right into the path of the Black Death.

Unaware of the error at first, Kivrin becomes deeply involved in the life of the family that takes her in. But she soon discovers the truth and confronts the horrible, unending suffering of the plague that would wipe out half the population of Europe. She also discovers she is trapped in time while her rescuers in 21st century Oxford battle their own deadly epidemic and try to reach her in time.

Willis brilliantly weaves two storylines together as she depicts a pair of closely knit communities that face equally frightening and unknown enemies. The author uses the language of time travel and advanced technologies to speak of human concerns and finds parallels that transcend time in the hopes, struggles and fears of her modern and medieval characters.

Mistress of the Art of Death (2008) by Ariana Franklin is an absorbing blend of historical fact and grisly fiction that will keep readers turning the pages. It is 1171 in Cambridge, England, and Henry II is extremely agitated — four children have been found murdered and mutilated and the townsfolk are blaming the Jews, who have sought shelter in the castle. King Henry, less concerned about the murderer than the tax revenue he is losing while the Jewish community languishes in the fortress, appeals to the king of Sicily to send him a master of the art of death, one who can examine the deceased and determine the cause of death.

Dr. Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, a mistress of this art, arrives with a returning group of pilgrims. Along with an eunuch escort named Mansur and Simon of Naples, a Jew with an affinity for detection, she must piece together the mystery of these gruesome crimes before the monster kills again.

These novels are available at your Okanagan Regional Library www.orl.bc.ca

Peter Critchley is a librarian with Okanagan Regional Library.

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