Margaret Frazer, The Novice’s Tale

Posted March 20, 2012 by Kathy Davie in

The Novice's Tale (Sister Frevisse, #1)The Novice’s Tale by Margaret Frazer
Series: Sister Frevisse, 1
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First in the Sister Frevisse medieval mystery series revolving around a group of nuns, Dame Frevisse in particular. The series is based in St. Frideswide’s priory, a Benedictine order, in Oxfordshire. This particular story takes place in September in the Year of Our Lord’s grace 1431.

My Take
Okay, do not read this too soon after reading her Joliffe series as it incorporates the same Bishop of Winchester in both series. I made the mistake of reading both at the same time and I kept waiting for Joliffe to appear or Basset to start directing!

That said. This is an excellent story full of twists, turns, and tremendous turmoil! Frazer provides all the necessary clues along with loads of red herrings which will keep you guessing as to the reason for the lady’s death. The perpetrators are actually fairly obvious, but the how and why are not. I am so looking forward to the next in the series—The Servant’s Tale.

It’s a time of growth for Thomasine. Thank god. Because she makes me a bit nuts with her obsessive adherence to rules, her childish outlook and reactions, her timidity, and her lack of intelligence.

The Story
From an enjoyable cose with Master Chaucer to coping with the demands of Lady Ermentrude, the day is rapidly deteriorating. For Lady Ermentrude is only happy when she is creating a fuss and poking at people. Yet something has changed as the lady suddenly decides to ride on to her great-niece’s household. Now. This instant. And with a whirl, she and some of her household ride off.

Unfortunately, Lady Ermentrude returns to the priory the next day. Drunk, belligerent, and swaying on her feet. She is fuming and demanding that Thomasine leave the priory with her immediately. She fully intends to force her into a marriage and away from this “sinkhole of corruption”. But Lady Ermentrude is in no shape to ride on as she misses stairs and staggers with the aid of Thomasine and young Robert Fenner to one of the guest rooms.

It’s Martha’s interference and nosiness that leads to her own downfall. Just as Lady Ermentrude’s arrogance is hers. Unfortunately for Thomasine, it’s Sir Walter’s greed that fastens upon her and forces Dame Frevisse to apply her own intellect to discovering the truth as well as protecting her fellow nuns.

The Characters
Thomasine is a novice with a true devotion at St. Frideswide’s. Lady Isobel is her older sister by five years and married some years now to Sir John with three children.

Dame Frevisse has recently been promoted to hosteler for the priory requiring her to interact with visitors to the priory. Domina Edith has been the prioress at St. Frideswide’s for the past 32 years. Old, but very astute. Dame Claire is the infirmarian tending to the nunnery and any who ask her help. Father Henry is the priory priest. A young man and not scholarly, but deep in his faith. Dame Alys is the cellarer in charge of overseeing labor, land, and buildings as well as all that pertains to the kitchen. Martha Hayward is a former maid to Lady Ermentrude who has retired to live and work at St. Frideswide’s. She has some kitchen duties and cares for Domina Edith’s tiny, elderly greyhound. She gives herself airs and has been boring everyone for years now with her stories about Court. Dame Perpetua is in charge of the novices.

Thomas Chaucer is the son of Geoffrey Chaucer. He is also “one of the richest and most powerful commoners in England. Cousin to Cardinal Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester. Powerful enough to have been on the King’s Council. Uncle by marriage to Dame Frevisse through her Aunt Matilda. He’s on his way to France to collect Lord Moleyns’ heiress and the son of the now-deceased William Vaughan.

Lady Ermentrude Fenner is an old, powerful, and wealthy bitch. She’s also Thomasine’s great-aunt by marriage. And no one who comes within the orbit of the Fenner family is ever allowed to leave it as one never knows when one will be of use or profit to the Fenners. St. Frideswide’s tolerates Lady Ermentrude as the Fenners donate generously to their coffers and larders. She has two ladies-in-waiting—one of whom was a spy planted by the queen. Sir Walter is her son and as bad as she. He greatly resents having to be here when he could be waiting for Lord Fenner to die—after all, he needs to ensure that his cousin doesn’t disperse the lands or monies away from his inheritance. Robert Fenner is a great-nephew and does his best to shield Thomasine and the nuns from Sir Walter’s intentions. He’s also falling in love with Thomasine.

Master Montfort is the crowner more interested in expediency than truth. Until forced to it by Dames Frevisse and Claire.

The Cover
The cover is much too fancy for my impression of this nunnery. Burgundy marble is inlaid in recessed panels in granite columns which support the sides of a granite building punctured by a Gothic window with a diamond-paned stained glass insert in the peak of the window. Narrower, inlaid columns frame either side of the window while carvings of leaves square off the peak. Stepped moldings at the base of the primary columns and the window provide additional dignity with green marble panels inserted at the base. Through the window, we see a golden wine cup on its side, the bloody-looking wine puddled and dripping down the side of the rough wooden table.

The title is Thomasine as The Novice’s Tale reflects her life and hoped-for future which this murder seems to threaten.

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