Book Review: A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)

Book Review: A Morbid Taste for Bones (The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #1) by Ellis Peters

Four Stars

“Have you never hunted zealously in all the wrong places for something you desired not to find?”

Not the best Cadfael story, but the logical starting place. After my third reading, I find new depths in this series of medieval mysteries cum historical fiction. It’s easy to lose oneself in that time and place which presents itself as epic fantasy to modern readers.

“Meet every man as you find him, for we’re all the same under habit or robe or rags.”

When I first read Peters twenty years ago, I accused her (a nom de plume of Edith Pargeter) of dropping a twentieth century man into a twelfth century setting. It’s more complicated. In fact, Cadfael comes to us who has lived and enjoyed life to the full, but found all the world had to offer wanting. In his maturity he found his vocation as a contemplative: a nurturer of herbs, justice and persecuted lovers. Apart from the world, but somehow the world kept finding Cadfael.

“There’s a lot of merit in silence.”

These books may seem obscure to current readers because the underlying assumptions of western culture have shifted so much in the last forty years. That change adds to rather than distracts from the historical fantasy tone of the stories. Cadfael lived in a world of mystery, conflict and value just beyond the brightness of today.

“Genuine sinners are plentiful, but genuine penitents are rare.”

It’s impossible to visualize Cadfael without seeing Derek Jacobi who played him in the television adaptations. Even if you’ve seen those dramatized tangles, read the books. The first season wasn’t so bad, but the last two turned Peters’ stories inside out.

“God resolves all given time.”

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