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The Devil's Novice (1997)

The Devil's Novice (1997)

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4.01 of 5 Votes: 5
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0446405159 (ISBN13: 9780446405157)
mysterious press

About book The Devil's Novice (1997)

1st Recorded Reading: July 2003Once again Brother Cadfael saves the day, solves murder most foul (is there any other kind?) and furthers the course of deserving young love. He is lucky that Abbot Radulfus does not make him stay at the Abbey like most of the other monks, or else it would have to be someone else solving all the murders in and around Shrewsbury. He is also lucky that, as the abbey herbalist, he has an isolated workshop (still within the Abbey precincts, to be sure) where various characters come to confer with him while Cadfael minds the brews and such that he makes out of his herbs. (For those not wishing to read further, though I do take care not to give out any spoilers, I will note that I did enjoy reading this book, though I was somewhat unsatisfyed with the ending; Ellis Peters did not wind up all the lose ends this time.)In the late fall of the Year of Our Lord 1140, all is calm in Shrewsbury and in Shropshire (despite the civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda); and application is made to the Abbey by two landowners to accept their sons into the Abbey. One application is rejected (the son is four years old; and while there is provision in the Benedictine Rule for raising young children, and indeed such has always been done in this particular Abbey, it is decidied that perhaps the Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul at Shrewsbury should wait until a given person is of age before accepting an application to join the Order. The other application involves a young man in his late teens, and that application is accepted.So Meriet Aspley, the younger son of country nobleman Leoric Aspley, enters the order as a novice, and immediately requests that he become a full-fledged monk immediately; Abbot Radulfus notes that normally, a year of being a novice is required, but that the time can be shortened if it is found suitable. But Meriet appears to be a troubled soul, and has nightmares involving screaming out in his sleep; the other novices begin to whisper that Meriet is possessed, and is ‘the devil’s novice’.Brother Cafael has noticed that, although Meriet insists he wants to become a monk as soon as possible, he really does not seem to have the dispoitiion to be a monk, and wonders why Meriet would choose of his own free will to take this course. By the Abbot’s leave, he visits the Aspey family, and meets Meriet’s elder brother Nigel (the favored son), Nigel’s fiance Roswitha, stunningly beautiful (and she knows it), Roswitha’s brother Janyn, an easygoing man and Nigel’s best friend; and finally, Leoric’s ward Isouda, a young heiress to two neighboring manors. Leoric, a stiff and upright man of rigid morals, refuses to discuss Meriet’s choice. He insists that if his son is determined to become a monk, Leoric will not have him back. Nor can he suggest any reason for Meriet’s choice in the first place.Soon afterward the obligatory dead body makes its mute appearance, and Brother Cadfael sets himself to who killed the man, and why; he also divines that there are secrets within secrets, and, being Brother Cadfael, by the end of the book he has uncovered all.I did enjoy this book; and I am curious to see why the author saw fit to leave one dangling thread that did not get tied up neatly into the usual package. Perhaps the next book in the series (which I will be reading, or re-reading, of course) will clear up things.

I need a better copy of this volume--the cover on this one is becoming more than a little disheveled.This book starts in mid-September, 1140, with a serious discussion of whether the monasteries should accept child oblates: children given to the monasteries at very young ages, some as soon as they're weaned. The practice is approved in the Rule, but there has been significant discussion of ending it by this time, and Abbot Radulfus consults with his fellow monks, and then decides to change the policy, accepting no novices below the age of about sixteen.But there doesn't seem to be any problem with Meriet Aspley, who is nineteen already, lettered, healthy, and comes at his own request.Soon, however, doubts arise. It's somewhat ironic that communities named for singularity can't cope with solitary, self-sufficient characters. Meriet would be fine, even in a religious life that he isn't really suited for, if he could be alone. But that he can't, in a Benedictine monastery. Even the abbot doesn't really have private quarters--and the general choir monks have privacy only so far as their neighbors' courtesy extends.Worse, Meriet suffers from nightmares, evidently stemming from some trauma--but he can't remember the dreams, and won't discuss what trauma they might have arisen from.All of which makes it more plausible when he becomes a suspect in the murder of a clerical envoy. But Brother Cadfael points out that he may be covering for someone else...who may also not be guilty.This episode would make a very good handbook if you found yourself needing to make charcoal the old-fashioned way, because there's a very clear description of how to do so. It also deals with the familial interactions of people who've cut assarts into the Long Forest. Most especially, it deals with the problems of children who are not the favorites, and who have to struggle to get attention. In this case it's even more complicated, because Meriet also loves his brother, and is more than willing to sacrifice his own life to protect him...whether Nigel wants or needs that, or not.One note that disturbed me is the unwarranted assumption that all humans are depressed by rainy weather. I love rainy weather as much as the parched land does--so what does that make me?This is the last but one book with Brother Mark in it. After this, he's sent off to the schooling he'll need to become a priest. Note that at this time, higher education was really only available to people in religious orders, and mostly only men, at that. A woman desirous of an education MIGHT be able to get taught by her superiors in a convent, and most children got some basic education. But otherwise, she was pretty much on her own, unless she had a well-off father who taught her himself.There's also a discussion in this book of the superstition of hysteria. Many of Meriet's behaviors, even when he's most troubled, are not particularly abnormal--they're just INTERPRETED as 'demonic', BECAUSE they arise in a troubled lad. This is regarded as a form of innocence in some of the very oblates who will no longer be immured in this life. In a sense, it's a form of enforced ignorance--and will cause more problems in later books.

Do You like book The Devil's Novice (1997)?

Ellis Peters has given us another pleasing visit to twelfth century England and Shrewsbury Abbey. THE DEVIL’S NOVICE combines historical events from a very unsettled political period in English history with a satisfying mystery. A young man, Meriet, is given by his father to become a monk. Meriet seems to be trying very hard, and claims to wish to become a part of their community, but Brother Cadfael suspects that the religious life may not be his true vocation. Then it comes to light that a traveler, a trusted emissary of King Stephen is missing, presumed dead and the last people to have seen him are Meriet and his family. Cadfael and his friend Hugh Beringar sort through the clues and discover a crime that was hidden by many, but mostly for the wrong reasons.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Ellis Peters is a details first, prose second sort of author. The Devil's Novice is hilariously overwrought, pausing to describe in detail how each young incidental character is yet more lovely than the last, but makes up for it with a well realized and strongly convincing historical setting and characters who, past the purple prose, are endearingly quirky, even under the looming threat of murder. Most refreshing of all the characters on offer this round is Isouda, who, despite the brief attention the book devotes her, is a strong romantic interest, and a strong woman without falling to the danger of seeming out of place in a medieval setting, as so many female protagonists do in medieval fiction.Definitely a guilty pleasure, but my favourite Cadfael book all the same. Meriet and Isouda really make the book, but Cadfael is charming as usual.

This is one of my less-favoured Cadfael books, for reasons that are either hard to define or a feature of some idiosyncrasy I don't quite recognise. Either way, while readable and enjoyable, it isn't one of the memorable Cadfael books.It is not, I note, that I agree with some of the other readers that the young people featured here are less likeable that in some of the other novels. Meriet and Isouda are actually, to my mind, MORE attractive to read about, by virtue of their more "adult" mindset. I like too, the focus on vocation in the context of a young man who is notably not suited to the monastic life, yet determined despite that. The deficiency, if I can lay my finger in the right vicinity, is more that the mystery in this novel seems a bit thinner than in most of the Cadfael novels (granting, of course, that the mystery does not occupy the central place of a solvable puzzle in the same manner it would in a Golden Age detective novel) and the world seems--oddly, considering the importance of the pan-English politics--to be drawn too narrowly here.
—Michael Joosten

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