Friday, January 30, 2009

The Poisoned Serpent - Joan Wolf

Norman England has little to celebrate in the new year of 1110. The country is immersed in a bitter civil war from which no one is immune, including Hugh de Leon, heir to an earldom. His Uncle Guy has arranged his marriage to the spoiled daughter of the newly named Earl of Lincoln. It is a merger that will combine two of the land's largest fortunes--and give the de Leons unparalleled power. Hugh's heart; however, belongs to the Lady Cristen, and he will do everything he can--including eloping--to make her his own.

His plan is simple enough--until the new Earl of Lincoln is murdered, and a friend of Hugh's is accused of the crime. Though he has little time in which to foil his uncle's arrangement, Hugh cannot see an innocent man wrongly hanged. To save his friend and marry the woman he loves, Hugh must work fast to track down a deadly--and wily--serpent. But when he grabs it by the tail, can he avoid its poisonous bite?

Following the first book where Hugh has to find the truth about his past we find him again when he has already been established as the Earl of Wiltshire rightful heir. This doesn’t bring him only joy because he has just been told by his uncle that he has betrothed him to the daughter of the Earl of Lincoln. The plan is to join the two most powerful families in the land and gain more power and riches. But Hugh is set and determined to marry only Cristen, his long-time love, although she doesn’t belong to a rich and influential family.

The plot thickens when the Earl of Lincoln is murdered and one of Hugh’s friends is suspected of being the killer just to help Hugh become the next Earl and get all his riches through his marriage to his daughter.

Hugh is alerted to Bernard Radver’s arrest and decides to travel to Lincoln and see if he can unravel the mystery of who killed the Earl of Lincoln. There he meets again Richard Canville, the son of the current Sheriff, whom he has known from childhood. It is apparent from the beginning that there’s past history between Hugh and Richard. Hugh evades Richard’s attempts at friendship trying to keep him at arm’s length. In Lincoln is also Elizabeth de Beauté, the young daughter of the murdered Earl, who seems as determined as Hugh not to have their betrothal be valid. Finally, Cristen proves that she is also a strong woman as she sets to Lincoln determined to help Hugh and stay with him till the truth is discovered.

Although there is a strong historical background I think in this book the attention is centered more in the detective story. Through his interview of witnesses and his deduction skills Hugh attempts to prove that his friend is innocent and that the guilt lays elsewhere. It does provide an interesting look into a medieval city’s life with its castle and its inhabitants but also with the common people going about their daily activities of selling and buying goods, attending fairs, playing games or just caring about family.

As the previous book of the series this The Poisoned Serpent is a compelling read even if at times Hugh seems almost too perfect to be true. I thought Wolf was planning a series but it seems there are just these two books. I wish she had written more because I think they were great reads.

Grade: 4/5

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