Monday, April 24, 2017

Elizabeth Ashworth's The de Lacy Inheritance, a standout medieval novel

Having some free time in between review assignments, I decided to pick up a novel that had been on my TBR for years (it was published in 2010). Then, after finishing, I regretted having waited so long.

Elizabeth Ashworth's The de Lacy Inheritance, which includes real-life figures from late 12-century Lancashire, should suit readers who seek out fiction with authentic medieval atmosphere, characters, and scenarios.

The physical book has been handsomely produced by Myrmidon; it's a pleasure to hold and flip through. One of the novel's two viewpoints is male, but if the damsel on the cover (depicting Johanna FitzEustace, the teenage heroine) and lace edging works to get the book into more readers' hands, then it's done its job.

In 1193, Richard FitzEustace has returned from Palestine, where he had accompanied King Richard on Crusade and had, sadly, contracted leprosy. In the opening scene, Richard (presumably a man in his twenties) kneels while his family's priest recites the Mass of Separation, which forbids him from entering a church, touching any well without his gloves on, or claiming his birthright. And more besides. It's a terrible fate even on top of his itchy affliction. In accordance with the mindset of medieval times, Richard accepts it, knowing that it's God's punishment for succumbing to temptation in the Holy Land: he'd fallen in love with an "Infidel" woman there.

Before leaving Halton Castle forever and taking refuge in a leper house, though, he's asked by his grandmother to visit her childless cousin, Sir Robert de Lacy, at Cliderhou Castle in Lancashire, to persuade him to name her as his heir. This way Sir Robert's lands will be kept within the family. Meanwhile, Richard's absence from Halton leaves his headstrong 14-year-old sister, Johanna, vulnerable. Her mother and uncle want her to marry an older man she finds repulsive.

I enjoyed seeing the warm friendship that develops between Richard and Sir Robert, and the ways in which villagers treat Richard with kindness while acknowledging his outcast status: they leave warm bread for him outside the hermit's cave near Cliderhou where he's taken up residence. The novel's conflict comes not just from Johanna's desperate situation but also because another man believes that he should be Sir Robert's rightful heir, rather than Richard.

Following a few intense, demanding reads, The de Lacy Inheritance was a welcome palate-cleanser of a book. There's nothing showy about it – it doesn't involve royalty or large-scale historical events – but the story moves along nicely throughout. I've noticed that British writers seem sparing in their use of commas when compared to Americans, which made for many seemingly run-on sentences, but I got used to the rhythm after a while.

This was Elizabeth Ashworth's first novel. Fortunately she's written many others since, all focused on medieval or Tudor times, and they're now on the TBR as well.


  1. I'd not heard of Elizabeth Ashworth before. This book sounds like one I would enjoy.

    1. Her novels are either with small presses or are indie, so may not have been widely publicized. Judging by this one, I'm eager to read more of them.