I’ve recently read The Blood of the Fifth Knight, which is the sequel to The Fifth Knight, a historical mystery thriller set in the times of Henry II and written by E.M. Powell. If you missed my review last year of The Fifth Knight, you can check it out by clicking on the title. Though the sleuth is the same in both books, you can be assured that you can read the sequel as a stand alone as well, though the first book was quite excellent and would provide further background information you might enjoy.
As for The Blood of the Fifth Knight, I absolutely loved reading this novel. I do love a good mystery, but in all fairness I must disclose that sometimes it takes me a few times to get “into” some mysteries, even if I liked them by the end. With Powell’s sequel, this wasn’t so at all. I was grabbed by the first few pages and read fervently as she entertained and thrilled me page by page. I didn’t want to put it down and I didn’t have distracted syndrome.
Why? I think it’s her sentence structure, her formation, her details….but beyond that, I think it’s her characters. They are so dimensional and crafted with an exquisite hand. I love Powell’s touches of humor, which always come lightly and just at the right time, and she’s one of few that makes action sequences exciting. She uses a whole cast of characters with different attributes that come to life off the page, making them easy to visualize within my head.
She did an extreme amount of research for this novel and it shows, as well as her vivid imagination for the time period. I love her glorious descriptive details, rich and full of life and zest. Her writing is never brooding, but fun and uplifting even in some situations that would be given a heavy air by others. Her historical basis was authentic and plausible and she wound her plot intricately and with care, weaving her characters and their motivations together like she had seen it all right before her eyes.
I love her choice of Sir Benedict Palmer as her sleuth, even if most everyone does not know that Henry II has called him in as an investigator, not a gardener. He seems very observant, but does get himself into some precarious situations which are quite humorous for many reasons. That added a flair to the story. Also, with her juxtaposing back to Palmer’s own wife, Theodosia, and his children, who were left behind in the home, it really gave the story depth and showed us societal levels and nuances of the time period which added to the plot. In regards to this, I especially enjoyed the character she introduced in Joan, Palmer’s long-lost sister. I liked her attitude and her strength, and her ingenuity, which set up an alternate mirror in regards to Theodosia’s moral compass.
I really liked Powell’s portrayal of Henry’s mistress, Rosamund Clifford, for whom Palmer was secretly called in to snuff out the assassin who tried to kill her. She didn’t regurgitate any historical story here just for legend sake, but instead she played upon their known affair in order to create a suspenseful mystery that was full of intrigue and drama. Talk about a damsel in distress! Surrounding this entanglement was, of course, Henry II’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, of whom he wished to divorce, and her lover, who had his eyes on the crown. Where Rosamund seems ignorant and in need of attention, Eleanor seems to know what she wants and won’t give up her place easily.
My FAVORITE part though was how Powell integrated the “zoo” into the novel, the grouping of animals that were secured or given as gifts to the crown which were kept at the Tower (later to be the London Zoo). The description of the animals, from the lion to the leopard, were amazing. The sequences with the animals made me wonder if Powell had ever been a zookeeper! I was enthralled by their use in the plot and felt that it was very original in comparison to almost anything else I’ve read in the historical medieval thriller genre.
I’ll be hard pressed to find many other mystery novels that I’ll love as much this year as The Blood of the Fifth Knight. Whether you have a flair for the medieval period or not, this mystery is for any reader who loves a thriller that sends them on a visual chase, as it treated me to an evening of escape and entertainment, and had me turning pages faster than I truly wanted to….I didn’t want to leave the characters behind!
Highly recommend as one of the top mysteries of 2015!
Canterbury, Kent, England, 12 July 1174
A king’s flesh tore like any man’s. Sir Benedict Palmer knew it would, but still it shocked him to see it.
He stood among the many hundreds of pilgrims and gawkers that crammed the winding streets of Canterbury, watching the penitent King Henry make his tortured way towards the cathedral. The shouting crowds stood ten deep, twenty in places, pushing for a better view.
‘Can you see him?’ came the close whisper from Palmer’s wife, Theodosia.
He met her fear-filled grey eyes. ‘He’s nearly here.’ Though Palmer could see with ease over the crowd, his small-boned Theodosia could not. Not yet, but very soon. And the sight would horrify her.
The broiling sun overhead lit the red that remained in Henry’s greying hair, and he wore the blackened ash mask of the sinner. The sweat on his face carried dark streaks of ash and a different red down his naked upper body. Blood stained the royal flesh, flesh white and soft as a turnip root. A line of sweating, black-robed monks followed him, scourges in hand, delivering this brutal public penance for the murder of the cathedral’s Archbishop, Thomas Becket.
Theodosia’s hand tightened on Palmer’s arm. He knew she had longed desperately for this day. Longed for it as much as she dreaded it.
Another crack echoed above the noisy mob, and the black coils of a scourge striped Henry’s bare chest and shoulders again. Folk gasped, women screamed. A group of white-robed monks raised their voices in a noisy hymn.
Theodosia gripped harder.
‘Confiteor Deoomnipotenti, istisSanctis et omnibus Sanctis.’ Henry continued to recite his penance, his thin voice cutting through the horde’s buzz.
‘Beg for forgiveness!’ yelled an unseen man. ‘Saint Thomas Becket is all forgiving!’
A new din of yells, whistles, and cries broke out.
‘By the glorious Queen of Heaven and the angels, repent!’ A hatchet-faced man flung up his hands.
‘Beg for the mercy of the Almighty!’ wailed a pockmarked priest.
‘Repent!’ A woman held tight to the cloak of her witless, drooling son, a cross shorn into his hair. ‘Repent now!’
All in this mob blamed Henry—blamed him as surely as if he had held the sword that had smashed Archbishop Thomas Becket’s skull on that freezing December night three and a half years ago. The night that Palmer and Theodosia had both witnessed, that had near cost them their lives too. The night that the cathedral had become Becket’s tomb, where his lifeblood had been splashed across its stone floor.
But today, the huge grey cathedral towers stood against a searing sun in a blue sky, marking Becket’s triumph from Henry’s martyr to a holy saint. Today, Henry the sinner stumbled low on the hot, brutal streets of Canterbury, begging for forgiveness from the man he’d had cut down, his own flesh shredded and torn. Already he looked as if he might fall.
‘A godly dead man is worth more than a living knave!’
Another rage-filled scream.
Palmer licked the salt of sweat from his top lip and held his reactions in check. The King was no knave, yet the world had to think so.
Palmer glanced down at his silent wife, fearing her collapse more than the King’s. The high buildings trapped the stink from the near-solid run-offs from the privies, as well as the noise and heat. He hadn’t wanted to come to witness this ugly spectacle, but she’d insisted.
They’d travelled for weeks from their distant village of Cloughbrook in Staffordshire. Weeks without much food, as they walked in a praying, singing throng of every kind of pilgrim, which grew with each day they neared Canterbury. Now they stood here as the sun climbed, fiercer by the hour, without the relief of shade or water. Fiercer still, the mood of those watching Henry’s agony. The fierceness of the righteous. Palmer knew it well.
And Theodosia stood beside him, with her stomach big, the baby she carried expected by autumn. But he needn’t worry about her fainting. Despite her heat-cracked lips and freckled skin, he saw the clamp of her jaw, the firm set of her gaze. She wouldn’t yield: she waited for her King. Yet her gaze flicked to their small red-haired son, edging forward through the knot of legs and skirts, curious to gape too.
‘Tom.’ Her quick order brought him back to Palmer’s side.
Palmer laid a hand on the lad’s slender shoulder. ‘Stay with us, eh? Can’t have you getting lost.’ Not much chance of that. Becket himself could come down from the clouds, and Theodosia would still have an eye on the boy.
There was a crack as another scourge met the royal flesh. The crowd let out a fresh roar, drowning Henry’s cry of anguish.
Hands, fists and staves pressed at Palmer’s back, tried to force past him to gape closer. He swung his son off his feet and plunked him on his shoulders as he held Theodosia to him with his other arm.
He turned to those behind him. ‘Stop your shoving, you hear me?’
A fat pilgrim with an even fatter wife glared at him. ‘You ignorant farmer.’ With his breath a blast of tooth rot, the man’s face shone with rage and heat. ‘I can’t see past you and your—’ He caught the full force of Palmer’s look.
And shut his noise.
‘Benedict.’ Theodosia pulled at his arm. ‘Not here. We are on a holy pilgrimage.’
Palmer gave the silenced man a final glare and turned back to see the King’s approach along the street. ‘You ignorant farmer.’ Yes, he resembled one in his worn, patched clothes. He had to. If the pilgrim knew—knew who he really was, what he, Sir Benedict Palmer, had done: half those here would run screaming from him; the other half would tear him to pieces. No matter that King Henry knew the truth, that Henry would say Palmer’s actions had been justified. Henry himself was so close to losing his kingdom, losing his crown. Many said the King did this penance to make amends with God, before he lost power to Queen Eleanor and her ferocious sons, rising in rebellion against him. And all Palmer and Theodosia had been through would have been for nothing.
‘Make way for his Grace. Make way!’ Canterbury’s guards forced the watchers back with drawn swords.
Shoved aside too, Palmer took a half step to steady his stance.
Tom’s small hands clutched tightly at Palmer’s hair.
His son’s high voice hardened his resolve. Forget knighthood, kingdoms, battles. The murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, the murder that Henry now did penance for. The murder that he, Sir Benedict Palmer, had been present at. What mattered now was to keep his family safe.
But if a king could fall, if a king could be swept aside, then where did that leave him?
The Blood of the Fifth Knight, Synopsis~
Genre: Historical Thriller
A triumphant sequel to Powell’s acclaimed historical thriller The Fifth Knight. A desperate king trusts a lone knight to unravel a web of murder.
England, 1176. King Henry II has imprisoned his rebellious Queen for her failed attempt to overthrow him. But with her conspirators still at large and a failed assassination attempt on his beautiful mistress, Rosamund Clifford, the King must take action to preserve his reign.
Desperate, Henry turns to the only man he trusts: a man whose skills have saved him once before. Sir Benedict Palmer answers the call, mistakenly believing that his family will remain safe while he attends to his King.
As Palmer races to secure his King’s throne, neither man senses the hand of a brilliant schemer, a mystery figure loyal to Henry’s traitorous Queen who will stop at nothing to see the King defeated.
The Blood of the Fifth Knight is an intricate medieval murder mystery and worthy sequel to E.M. Powell’s acclaimed historical thriller The Fifth Knight.
Review Praise for The Fifth Knight
“Powell does a masterful job. Highly recommended.” Historical Novels Review
Author E.M. Powell, Biography~
Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State) she now lives in the north-west of England with her husband and daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog.
She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America. She is a reviewer of fiction and non-fiction for the HNS.
Find out more by visiting www.empowell.com. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and GoodReads.
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