670 AD, Ireland. A gang of wreckers drive a ship onto the rocks and the sole survivor of the ship witnesses them accost a group of religeuse and brutally murder the Abbess who was leading the group. She was the Abbess of the Abbey of Ard Fhearta, to which Sister Fidelma and Brother Eadulf are summoned to investigate the missing people. But when they arrive, there is a more pressing concern – the Venerable Cinead, a scholar of some repute has been found murdered.
Could the two events be connected – and if so, how? The more that Fidelma investigates, the more that she hears stories of the “Master of Souls” who stalks the land nearby. It seems that someone is trying to stir up war with her people, and that someone is the spitting image of Uaman the Leper, the Lord of the Passes – someone who Eadulf saw die… or did he?
And I’m back… again. Seems like an age, but it’s only been a week since my last review. However, I give fair notice, I’ve been to hospital and back since the last one. I may be one appendix lighter, which may or may not help my reviewing skills – no one seems to know what that pesky thing does, apart from potentially explode at a random time in one’s life, but I doubt there have been many studies regarding links between reviewing ability and possession (or not) of an appendix. You never know… More importantly, since reading the book, a fair amount of painkillers have been swirling round my system, so my memory of it might not be what it should… although the upcoming review of Nemesis, which I read while actually on said painkillers, might be interesting.
And before I go on, a big shout out to the folks at Coventry Hospital, especially the nurses on Ward 22 and the Day Surgery Ward – I’m not the best patient in the world, and they were unbelievably helpful and lovely. So thank you very much indeed. Much appreciated.
So, back to the book. It’s the fourteenth in a strong series, but it’s a weaker entry in the series. As ever, there’s the whodunit element married with a grand plan, but the book suffers somewhat by taking each aspect one at a time. Usually the plots run parallel, but here the wreckers are located some distance from the abbey, so the first chunk is all about the murder of the scholar, then it turns to all about the other thing, including the Master of Souls, and then it dovetails back at the abbey – and for once, everything being able to be tied up in one place (as always happens in this series) seemed to be stretching coincidence a little too much. Other aspects seemed to have been fudged for plot development – is it reasonable that Fidelma would discover the nature of the abbey so late in the day? And it’s another entry in the series where I found myself needing to remind myself that Fidelma and Eadulf are supposed to be in love, as it doesn’t seem that way on the page.
The mystery isn’t bad, but the villain is very guessable – although probably not for the right reason. As I said, one of the weaker entries in the series, which also relies on (but doesn’t spoil) the events of the preceding The Leper’s Bell. Recommended for completists, but don’t start with this one.