Clark has found a niche for her 14th-century nun. Hildegard, the widow of a warrior, has dedicated her life to the service of God, her dream to establish a small abbey and attend to the needs of the poor. Unfortunately, Hildegard lives in a time of extreme political turmoil: the Hundred Years War, flood, famine and the Black Death sweep across France, Flanders and Tuscany.
Leaving the seclusion of Swyne at the behest of her prioress, Hildegard heads to the Abbey at Meaux to request permission for a pilgrimage that will take her deep into dangerous territory, from the Yorkshire moors to Renaissance Italy. Her mission is secret, to retrieve the Cross of Constantine in hopes of rallying the troops around Richard II, who is vulnerable to the machinations of those who would usurp his power.
First introduced to Hildegard in the medieval mystery Hangman Blind, fans will be pleased with this second adventure by a spirited nun whose zeal for her religion equals her knowledge of the dangers of politics. Her former experiences in the world aid Hildegard, well aware of the duplicity of the powerful and the scheming that attends every aspect of political life. These are dangerous days - one pope in Avignon, one in Rome, every mile of her journey fraught with danger: “Folk are hardened to cruelty after what they’ve suffered.”
And an old problem follows Hildegard from Hangman Blind. A particularly nasty mercenary with a personal vendetta follows the nun’s every move, determined to take his revenge for wrongs done to him at their last meeting, the scar scoring his cheek a reminder of his failure to carry out his intentions.
Astute, politically savvy and perfectly suited to traveling in anonymity, Hildegard understands the risks she faces in her journey to bring home the sacred relic. She is also conversant with the many factions juggling for dominance in England and the real threat to the reign of Richard II. Clark walks this landscape with authority, capturing the violence, superstition, volatile nature of uncertain times and a frightened, angry populace.
Familiar characters return in this novel: Lord Roger de Hatton, Sir Ulf, and most importantly Hubert de Courcy, Abbot of Meaux, with whom Hildegard has a complicated history. While Clark frames her story in difficult times, de Courcy is not an integral part of this novel as he was in Hangman Blind. Pivotal to the tension in the plot, de Courcy humanizes the spunky nun and her travails lose some of their power without him as catalyst.
Nevertheless, Hildegard’s second outing is impressive, a woman pitted against the dangerous world of men in a landscape rife with conflict and brute force. As she did in Hangman Blind, Clark leaves us with another emotional cliffhanger, just enough to plant the seed of curiosity for Hildegard’s next adventure.