The Enchanter’s Forest

The Enchanter’s Forest by Alys Clare. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, one of the selling points for Pat McIntosh’s Gil Cunningham series is her ability to seamlessly grow her characters while not taking away from the mystery plot. Authors need to successfully balance this concern about characters, which provides continuity and growth to their series, with their primary focus, which is writing compelling mysteries. If the pendulum swings too far and not enough effort is spent on the puzzle, then the books shift into the neighboring historical fiction genre.

Such is the case in the latest entry in the Hawkenlye Abbey series set on England’s southern coast at the end of 12th century. A new shrine claiming to hold the bones of the magician Merlin has been discovered in the forest and is drawing pilgrims away from the abbey. The Domina of the forest people and Abbess Helewise agree that the shrine’s claims should be investigated by their representatives, Sir Josse d’Acquin and his former lover, Joanna. Critical evidence resides in Brittany, so the pair, accompanied by their illegitimate toddler daughter, travel to France. Their journey and their rekindled feelings for each other dominate the story even when the murder of the shrine’s owner makes the purpose of their trip moot. Upon their return, the murder is quickly solved with little complication.

For those that enjoy a large dose of mysticism with their mysteries, the most recent books in this series will be especially appealing. The secretive forest people live in harmony with nature and gain their considerable power from the Earth itself. Depending on their individual capabilities, they can cast spells, see the future, hypnotize others and even shape-shift. Earlier books in the series have included the forest people at times, but they have been much more prevalent in the last two.

Although set during the turbulent time of King Richard’s reign, only infrequently does the outside world enter into the isolated world of the abbey. Overall, these are cozy mysteries with middling plots, several recurring characters, and often a bit of romance. For detailed plot summaries of earlier books including spoilers, I recommend Philip Grosset’s site on Clerical Detectives.

5 Responses to “The Enchanter’s Forest”

  1. 1 Philip Grosset May 21, 2008 at 7:29 am

    Many thanks for recommending my Clerical Detectives site – but, despite what you say, I try very hard NOT to include spoilers, and, for example, never give away the murderer’s identity = however unlikely! All the best.

  2. 2 unsetclock May 21, 2008 at 10:32 am

    Thanks for reading the blog and for commenting. In my opinion, it is not only information about the murderer’s identity or the main crime that can be considered a spoiler. I believe that your detailed summaries contain plot elements that, as a reader, I would rather not know about. I know from my own experiences how difficult it is to decide what to include and what to leave out. You want to give readers sufficient detail to help them decide if the book is worth reading, but not so much that they feel there are no surprises left.

    For example, I struggled with the decision to mention Florian’s death in the current book because I felt that, although astute readers could anticipate the event, many would be surprised by its sudden occurrence and writing about it would detract from their enjoyment of the moment. In your summary of “Ashes of the Elements,” you describe the scene of Josse and Helewise alone in the forest. I would rather have discovered this on my own than through a review of the book.

    I do enjoy your site and will continue to use it as a valuable research tool.

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