Cadfael Chronicles Prequel: A Rare Benedictine by Ellis Peters

Read: 30 August, 2008

Overall, I didn’t like it quite as much as A Morbid Taste for Bones. I think that Ellis Peters might just be one of those authors who is better suited for the longer narrative format. That being said, these stories were still great fun to read.

I love that Brother Cadfael doesn’t always wrap up his cases by catching the perpetrator and turning him/her over to the authorities. Sometimes, he decides that the crime is legitimate and helps the criminal escape. Sometimes, he doesn’t reveal who did it at all. In other words, he solves the mystery and makes things right, even if that means being on the wrong side of the power structure (and, sometimes, especially if it means going against the power structure). He’s a great character and far more complex than the usual detective who just wants to restore order, whatever the moral situation.

I had expected stories that showed Cadfael before he joined the monastic order. Instead, only one story fits that, and I found that the Cadfael character didn’t come through very clearly until the end of that story – once he had decided that he would join Shrewsbury Abbey. The rest of the short stories are like the novels, following an already established brother of the abbey. So we never get a good look at Cadfael in his previous life (in fact, I got more of a sense of that life by reading A Morbid Taste for Bones!) and we never get to see him learning about the abbey and trying to fit in. It’s a whole area that would have been great to read, so it’s a shame that it was skipped over.

Either way, these were great stories and I highly recommend them for any Brother Cadfael fan. I would also like to say that the illustrations in my copy are absolutely beautiful. They are drawn in the medieval style, but have something of the modern to them – it’s hard to describe. But they did add a great deal to my enjoyment of the book.

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