The Lady Agnès Mystery vol 1:
Book 1. The Season of the Beast
Book 2. The Breath of the Rose
Author: Andrea Japp
Translator: Lorenza García
Publisher: Gallic Books
US Release date: Nov 10, 2015
The series La dame sans terre
was first released in French in 2006-2007
also available as ebook
Genre: Historical Mystery
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
As a lover of historical fiction, mystery, and French literature, it’s high time for me to present to you the latest series by Andrea Japp, the famous crime writer, available now in English: The Lady Agnès Mystery. The series is made of 4 books, published separately in French. For some reason, Gallic Books has chosen to publish the 4 books in 2 volumes. I’ll present to you volume 2 at the beginning of January 2016, shortly before its US release date. So two thick volumes with a total of over 1,000 pages, but believe me, that’s worth it! See now why.
The book can be seen challenging at times, but if you are used to a large cast of characters and places, you will really enjoy it.
It covers the years 1304-1305, with a couple of flash backs to the 1290s. This is a difficult time in France, with a fierce struggle between King Philip IV (the Fair) and the Church. The Knights (Templars and Hospitallers) are involved, and it’s the dreadful period of the Inquisition!
It is mostly set in the Perche region (see the map bellow, with the main places relevant to the novel – click on the map and on each marker to get more details):
But many other places are involved, so let me recapitulate these places to give you an idea:
- in the Perche region:
– Souarcy (Lady Agnès’s manoir)
– Clairets Abbey, and its forest (forests are very important in this book, with key events happening in them)
– Authon-du-Perche, and the nearby forest of Béthonvilliers
– Arville, a major Templar commandery, and the forest of Montoubleau. Click on the link to see pictures of what’s left of it today.
– the château of Larnay
– Alençon, with its Inquisition headquarters
- elsewhere in France:
– Carcassonne (in the south of France)
- Vatican Palace
- Acre (flashback)
Book 1 goes from May-September 1304.
Agnès is 25, her daughter Mathilde 11. She has also taken in her household the young Clément, now 10, whose mother (Agnès’s former maid) died. Agnès’s husband also died. She’s rather poor and has to fight against her half-brother Eudes de Larnay’s special attention, and the new maid he has sent to her, actually to spy on her.
Nearby is the abbey of Clairets, with its abbess Éleusie (based maybe on its famous abbess Marie de Thin or the foundress Mathilde). Like Mathilde, Éleusie is quite a scholar. She has a secret library, hiding especially a very secret and dangerous document. Strange murders start multiplying in the forest around the abbey. It seems messengers with letters for the abbess are killed before being able to finish their mission.
And then, death gets even closer when some sisters get poisoned. Could the poisoner be one of the sisters? But which one? And why? Could it be because of this secret document? What could it contain?
We discover what’s at stake is not a mere local event. Something major is going on, a sort of struggle between good and evil, and some characters are on a special quest for light. But they will have to be able to recognize who’s for them or against them. Not easy when there’s so much going on between representatives of secular and Church powers, and when you can do quite a bit of damage with money: get rid of some cumbersome pope maybe, or even pay to get people delivered to the Inquisition and its horrible torturers…
Agnès herself will be dragged to the Inquisition headquarters – that’s the content of Book 2, covering September 1304-December 1305. Why? Who is she really?
These are just a few of the questions you will face, and be prepared not to have all the answers yet even after 600 pages. You will have to read Books 3 and 4 in volume 2 as well to understand really what this is all about.
Presented as a historical mystery, I have to admit I found it a bit frustrating to have few answers after so many pages. But they are very well written, spooky at times, with many mysterious hooded figures, a secret library, old mysterious manuscripts, runes, coded messages. You can’t but love that!
It was a delight besides to plunge into the history of the time. Considered as a historical novel then, the novel is fabulous, conveying so well the struggle between kings and papacy; between Philip IV (and the famous Nogaret, the keeper of the seal, also present in the classic historical fiction series by Maurice Druon on the same period) and the Templars, whom he basically wanted to annihilate to get to their massive wealth and curve their influences; and the whole movement of the Inquisition.
The characters are well evoked, the good and the bad, the poor and those corrupted with money. Women are definitely described as tough and ready to fight! There’s even a skilled swords-woman.
You really feel like joining on the mysterious quest at stake and help sympathetic characters in danger. Even if you don’t know how vast the quest is.
There are some powerful Gothic and gruesome descriptions, for instance of the Inquisition headquarters in Alençon. And good historic passages, for instance of the Templar Arville commandery. I also enjoyed the details on plants and herbs, whether to heal or to kill!
EN DEUX MOTS :
Saga gigantesque au temps de l’Inquisition, avec une bibliothèque secrète, un vieux livre dangereux, de l’astrologie, des messages codés, de quoi vous tenir sur le bord de votre chaise. Après 600 pages, c‘est un peu frustrant de ne percevoir seulement que l’ampleur de la quête sans avoir quasi aucune réponse aux multiples questions soulevées, mais la qualité de l’évocation historique compense largement. Les personnages attachants vous donnent envie de vous joindre à leur quête, même si nous ne savez pas très bien au début ce qui est vraiment en jeu.
VERDICT: Suspenseful saga set in France in the 14th century, at the time of the dreadful Inquisition. Rich in historical details and ripe with secrets powerful enough to kill or to die for.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
Part one of the story of Agnès de Souarcy, a tale of intrigue set in medieval France.
1304. The Church and the French Crown are locked in a power struggle. In the Normandy countryside, monks on a secret mission are brutally murdered and a poisoner is at large at Clairets Abbey. Young noblewoman Agnès de Souarcy fights to retain her independence but must face the Inquisition, unaware that she is the focus of an ancient quest.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
is one of the grandes dames of French crime writing
with over thirty novels published.
She is a forensic scientist by profession
and weaves this knowledge into her books,
giving them particular authenticity.
She is the French translator of Patricia Cornwell.