Desert Isle Keeper Review

The Apothecary Rose

Candace Robb
1993, Medieval Romance (1360s England)
St. Martins, $6.99, 319 pages, Amazon ASIN 0312953607

Grade: A
Sensuality: Warm

One day I was in the bookstore staring at the shelf containing the JD Robb books. It's almost as though, if I stood there long enough and stared hard enough, an Eve and Roarke adventure I hadnít read would magically appear. No such luck. Fortunately, there was a series of books next to them with intriguing covers that were replicas of medieval tapestries. I determined which was the first one, bought it, and was immediately sucked into the world of Owen Archer.

Owen, a Welshman, was captain of archers for the Duke of Lancaster serving in France. When his men propose to kill a Breton jongleur solely for being French, he intervenes and saves the manís life. The jongleur returns the favor by sneaking into camp a few nights later killing French prisoners held for ransom by the English. Owen catches and kills the jongleur, only to be wounded by the manís mistress. Owen recovers, but loses the sight in one eye. No longer trusting himself to lead his men, he is offered the chance to learn the art of being a spy by the Duke.

Two years later the Duke is dead and Owen has no wish to serve the new Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt. So when Owen is offered a position by John Thoresby, Lord Chancellor of England and Archbishop of York, he takes it. He believes it will be better for his soul to work for a man of God. Thoresbyís first assignment is to send Owen to York to solve the mystery behind the deaths of two pilgrims at St. Maryís Abbey.

Owen travels to York and poses as an apprentice to the apothecary who sold the physic that poisoned the pilgrims. Owen encounters many roadblocks to solving the crime. The people of York do not trust a foreigner and former soldier. But that is nothing compared to the fact Owen is attracted to his prime suspect, Lucie Wilton, the apothecaryís wife.

Owen is a God-fearing man looking for a little peace and security in life after everything heís ever known was destroyed with the flick of a knife. Instead he finds himself drawn into the dark world of Englandís politics by one its masterminds, Thoresby himself. In love with a married woman, a spy in a foreign city, Owen spends a lot of time questioning his motives and Godís plan for him.

Robb does an wonderful job of bringing medieval York to life, describing things like the smell of the River Ouse and how food was served in trenchers of bread instead of on plates. She populates her version of York with many colorful fictional characters, such as the river woman Magda Digby, who lives in an overturned Viking ship outside the city and practices the old ways (pre-Norman invasion), and Bess Merchet, a tavern owner, who proves to be a better gatherer of information than Owen. They are an interesting contrast to true historical figures like Thoresby and the Duke.

The Apothecary Rose is a touching love story as well as an intriguing mystery. Fortunately for the reader, it is only the beginning of a wonderful series, for once you meet the inhabitants of York, you wonít want to leave them behind.

-- Jennifer Schendel

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