I was a big fan of the Cadfael TV show when I was younger, so I was interested to see what the stories would be like in literary form.
The good bits:
- Cadfael himself is just as good as Derek Jacobi’s portrayal, though I was surprised at how openly rebellious Cadfael was in the novel. I expected it to be more veiled.
- It’s a well constructed whodunnit. Even though I’d seen the TV show, I’d forgotten who the villain was and didn’t guess til almost the very end.
- It’s nice to see a story from this period that doesn’t exclusively focus on lords and ladies and court intrigues.
- I liked the Brother John subplot. It was entertaining and humanised the whole affair nicely.
Not so good bits:
- I felt the whole Welsh as superior thing was overegged. The ‘noble savage’ portrayal of the people in the tiny rural parish felt quite patronising at times.
- Yes we know Prior Robert is a bit of a supercilious git, but again, this was overexplained to the point that almost every time he speaks we get an additional description of his self serving expressions and holier than thou tone.
- I was rather expecting Cadfael himself to be the pragmatic hero of the piece, but I’m not actually sure I like this Cadfael. He’s much more ruthless than the TV version.
Overall, I think this is probably more suitable for modern hardboiled mystery fans than historical lit/historical fantasy readers. It’s a bit middle brow with a lot of overexplaining, but worth a read to see whether the style chimes with you.