Brother Cadfael's Penance (review) - Sarah Woodbury

Brother Cadfael’s Penance (review)

Ellis Peters began her Brother Cadfael series in 1977 with A Morbid Taste for Bones. Twenty books later, she wrote Brother Cadfael’s Penance, my personal favorite.  She saved the best for last, as she died in October, 1995.

Ellis Peters was the nom de plume of Edith Pargeter.  Although she began the Brother Cadfael mysteries towards the end of the life, she had a long career in many other areas.  Although she left school at fifteen, she taught herself Czechoslovakian, and then translated a number of works into English.

Here’s the pitch for the final book:  “For Brother Cadfael in the autumn of his life, the mild November of our Lord’s year 1145 may bring a bitter–and deadly–harvest. England is torn between supporters of the Empress Maud and those of her cousin Stephen. The civil strife is about to jeopardize not only Cadfael’s life, but his hopes of Heaven.

While Cadfael has sometimes bent the Abbey’s rules, he has never broken his monastic vows–until now. Word has come to Shrewsbury of a treacherous act that has left thirty of Maud’s knights imprisoned. All have been ransomed except Cadfael’s secret son, Olivier de Bretagne. Conceived in Cadfael’s soldiering youth and unaware of his father’s identity, Olivier will die if he is not freed. Like never before, Cadfael must boldly defy the abbot. The good brother forsakes the order to follow his heart–but what he finds will challenge his soul.”

“Cadfael is a Welshman, now in his 60s, and a Brother in the monastery of Saints Peter and Paul, in Shrewsbury, England. The time is the 1100s, while Stephen and Maud are contending for the throne of England. Cadfael is now a brother, but he has been in the world- he spent 15 (or so) years in the Mideast, first as a Crusader, then as captain of a fishing boat. While there, he began to learn about gardening and herbs, he loved several women and even fathered a son, although he did not know it at the time. Finally, the quiet, the peace of the monastery called to him, and he came home to England and took vows. When the series begins, he has been a brother for about 15 years. His adventures are all centered in life in the Monastery, which is the center of his life, but they also show that he has not turned away completely from the world.”

Did I mention that I LOVE THIS BOOK!  This book is about Cadfael’s heart.  He loves his Church.  He loves his way of life.  And yet, he is willing to sacrifice what he’s worked so hard to build–and his life–for the life of his son.  There is no more poignant moment than when he closes the door on his herb hut and walks away.

Because he’s Cadfael, he ends up meddling in the affairs of  men far above him on the social ladder, and changing the course of the endless war between Stephen and Maud.

A Morbid Taste for Bones, which begins Cadfael’s adventures, takes place in Wales for the most part.  Readers of my The Good Knight will recognize the setting.

2 Replies to “Brother Cadfael’s Penance (review)”

  1. If the discovery by a father of a son that he did not know he had is done well, it can be a very moving part of a novel’s plot. Ellis Peters did it well in The Virgin in the Ice. And it was a very compelling part of Cold My Heart. Thank you for your novels and for this blog. Both of them help many of us Welsh Americans connect to our roots.

    Iechyd da!

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