The Dragon of Handale by Cassandra Clark

Review published on May 26, 2015. Reviewed by jj redfearn

Nudge Reviewer Rating:

A courier from Westminster was caught and murdered on the high moors north of York. He was murdered in his bed on a dark and stormy night at an inn. It was murder most foul, his being held face-down while a stiletto was inserted its full length, right up to the hilt, between his legs. Not just murder but an allusion, a message.

That’s line one on page one covered.

From there on the pace slows. Occasionally it speeds up a little, then falls back to a sedate walking pace. A bad bit comes when Hildegard walks past some archers ‘firing’ arrows. Archers don’t fire arrows now and didn’t then, they loose them or shoot them. Loose because they draw the bow with maximum effort and then release, let loose, the arrow. Firing only came with firearms. Many little details like this seem not quite right. Therefore suspend those critical faculties and read Dragon as the mystery it is. Focus on the style, the plot. Actually, focus on the style. Don’t worry about the historical detail too much.

The style is calm, relaxed, comfortable. Elegantly phrased, easy to read, clear that nothing as bad as the first sentence will happen again. Muted suspense, brief heart slowing tension, teacup-ride pounding excitement fill the pages. Occasional bodice-ripper sentences “ … a sudden enraged shout from the cloisters. A man’s bass tones echoed along the arcades, followed by the sound of a scuffle. A female voice cried out. And was abruptly cut short”. That sort of thing.

Hildegard has been sent to stay in the Handale convent. It’s in the middle of a sleeping-beauty style enchanted forest, the only ways in via a tortuous path through the dragon-hiding forest or by boat on a difficult little river. A good secluded place for her to decide whether to renew her vows as a nun, or to stay free. Also a correctional institution for sinning nuns, where nasty little punishments are ordered and then self-inflicted, where everyone has a nasty-little-secret or two. Should Hildegard accept being sent there at face value or is there an ulterior motive? Has she been sent to investigate something? Is it a message of some sort, a punishment?

Another murder, an unexplained death, suspects amongst the nuns, suspects amongst the masons, a highly suspect miller, smuggling, romance, arms running, a wedding, a secret tower with a secret room, people trafficking ensue. Easy reading with an implausible plot, implausible sub-plots, downright weird and implausible behaviours from all and sundry. So suspend your critical faculties and read this as what it is – a comfortably written mystery set in the north of medieval England. It’s not taxing, the twist and turn fits the style, an enjoyable piece of fun.

JJ Redfearn

The Dragon of Handale by Cassandra Clark is published by Minotaur Books, March 2015

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