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    Review of HERESY by Sharan Newman


    Forge, December 2002

    Review by Jennifer Vilches

    Twelfth century Paris is keenly feeling financial woes brought on by the Crusade. Catherine's husband Edgar must personally go to Spain for new trade goods, so Catherine leaves Paris with their children and household to stay at the abbey of her friend and mentor Heloise. But it's not destined to be a simple journey - even as she makes travel plans, Heloise's son Astrolabe shows up on the doorstep, in danger of being accused of heresy and murder. Astrolabe travels with them in disguise to reach his mother. Then at Heloise's request, they travel on to Reims where the pope, bishops, and a horde of other religious and secular leaders are convening for a council. Here Catherine and her sister-in-law Margaret must search for the truth and defend Astrolabe's innocence before he ends up facing the judgment of the Council.

    This is the eighth book in the Catherine series, and there is so much history and character development along the way that new readers will probably want to start at the beginning (Death Comes as Epiphany) to get the most out of the series. As usual with Newman, the reader is immersed into historical details that make 12th century France come alive. It has a very genuine feel and characters stay consistent with the time period. Newman is at her best with characterization and showing the issues of the times - moral, political, and religious. The consequences of heresies of different flavors and degrees are woven throughout the book. This probably sounds fairly heavy, but Newman manages to balance it pretty well with both the mystery at hand and with scenes from daily life. Catherine continues to be a delightful and strong heroine, and I like the way her personality is still evolving as motherhood and other influences come into play.

    Newman must be given full credit for maintaining originality - she hasn't fallen into the trap of reusing the same plot as with many running mystery series. However, Heresy is not Newman's strongest book. The writing is smooth and the plot flows along nicely, but the mystery seemed second to the rest of it and not as compelling as earlier entries in the series. One issue is that Edgar and Solomon (key players in many of the earlier books) are gone on their trading trip for most of the book. Without the richly drawn relationship between Edgar and Catherine, the middle of the book feels flat at times. Margaret's distress at her impending arranged marriage and the peril of Catherine's pregnancy don't really provide enough tension to carry the book when the main mystery fizzles. Read this more for the history than the mystery.

    See more reviews of novels by Sharan Newman.

    Two Stars

    Reviewed 9/16/04

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