Serpent in the Thorns Review
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It seems that few authors outside the romance genre dare to set their novels in medieval times. It’s understandable, too, since the castles and courts of the day seem to create the perfect backdrop for a steamy romance novel, populated by knights and damsels in distress. But anything else just feels too…silly (though, admittedly, that might just be because I’ve seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail a few too many times). There are, of course, a few exceptions—but few non-romance authors have made the medieval times quite as captivating as Jeri Westerson does in Serpent in the Thorns.

Seven years ago, Crispin Guest was involved in a plot to overthrow the young king, Richard II, in favor of the king’s uncle, John of Gaunt. Convicted of treason, he should have been executed. Instead, the king chose to take away his land and his title and leave him to fend for himself. Since then, Crispin has made a meager earning as a tracker—a medieval private investigator.

  
 
Guest’s latest case begins when a simple-minded young woman named Grayce shows up at his door to tell him that there’s a dead man in her room. Since her sister, Livith, was at work—and no one else was around—Grayce is convinced that she killed the man.

A strange case becomes even stranger, though, when Crispin goes to Grayce’s room and discovers that the man was a French courier—one who was carrying a priceless relic to King Richard. The case seems to be the perfect way to prove himself—and even get his title reinstated. But then the arrows start flying—and Crispin finds himself in the middle of yet another plot to kill the king.

Set in the dingy streets and the grand palaces of 14th century London, Serpent in the Thorns is guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve ever read. On one hand, it’s a work of historical fiction, playing on the usual medieval themes of pride and honor and written in such fabulous detail that you’ll almost be able to feel the chill in the air and smell the stench of the well-worn streets of the Shambles, where Crispin lives. On the other hand, though, it’s also a hard-boiled mystery, complete with some of the best elements of good pulp fiction: murder, corruption, a flawed hero, and a wayward woman. It’s a clever combination—and it makes for a wildly entertaining read.

The mystery isn’t without its flaws, but you’ll barely notice—because the characters more than make up for any of the story’s shortcomings. Crispin is a fascinating hero—a medieval gumshoe with a dark and stormy past. He’s made some questionable choices through the years, but he’s got a good heart (and a delightfully dry sense of humor), and he’s surrounded himself with a motley crew of priests and peasants—like his servant, the lovable young thief, Jack Tucker. He’s a well-meaning crook who’s utterly devoted to his “Master”—and it’s through their conversations and interactions that you’ll really get to know (and love) both characters.

While most medieval reads tend toward either melodramatic romance or overcooked parody, Jeri Westerson’s Serpent in the Thorns is a tight and suspenseful detective novel—an absorbing and authentic thriller that offers intriguing characters, a fascinating setting, and even a touch of history. Whether you’re into historical fiction or hard-boiled crime, you’ll love Westerson’s medieval noir.

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