The Magician’s Death

The Magician’s Death by Paul Doherty. First off, I need to thank the Kerrisdale Branch of the Vancouver Public Library for loaning my local library their copy of this book through ILL. I’ve used ILL before, but have never gotten something from a foreign country before.

What happens when you put the spymasters of France and England together in a remote castle on the southern coast of England? People get murdered of course. In the 14th book in the Hugh Corbett series, Philip IV of France has maneuvered Edward I of England into a one-sided treaty which forces Edward to marry his son to Philip’s daughter, but Philip’s reign is threatened domestically by the scholars at the Sorbonne (one might find similarities to Pakistani President Musharraf’s problems with his local lawyers and judges). Therefore, he plots with his Keeper of the King’s Secrets, Amaury de Craon, to have several prominent scholars journey with de Craon to England, ostensibly to meet with English scholars in a joint effort to decipher the hidden texts of Roger Bacon. Corbett, Keeper of the Secret Seal for Edward is sent with his long-time assistant, Ranulf, to act as the leader of the English contingent at the meeting at Corfe Castle on the Dorset coast. The archrivals eye each other warily and, as is typical in Doherty’s books, eventually both sides achieve some success while suffering setbacks.

Last month, I spent a whole week on Doherty’s works (here, here, here, here, and here) and this adventure is characteristic of his style. The plot is severely twisted and the sub plot (in this case a killer at the castle who’s murdering young girls even before the envoys arrive) typically is also dark and violent rather than humorous. Doherty allows secondary characters like Ranulf and the outlaw Horehound to develop without taking away from the preeminence of Corbett. Horehound continues a recent trend among HM medieval writers in depicting the harsh life of those outside the king’s law (see Knight and Ash) and not the romantic portrayal that Hollywood continues to perpetuate. Corbett again manages to convey the struggles that those who serve the king combat daily, whether as spymaster or castellan, merchant or laundress, scholar or shoemaker.

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