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Sunday, January 07, 2007

It is obvious that Edith Pargeter was a passionate and meticulous scholar of Britain’s Middle Ages. This trilogy, comprised of The Heaven Tree, The Green Branch, and The Scarlet Seed, takes place in the early 1200s in England, Wales, and France; the scope and detail of Medieval society, customs, and political intrigues are truly impressive. Enveloped but not lost in this epic weave is the story of Harry Talvace, an unassuming but ambitious, principled young stonemason. Harry belongs to the landholding class, but he relinquishes his claim to the family wealth when he runs away as a teenager to save his foster brother from cruel punishment. The book follows his fortunes thereafter as he takes up a commission by the wealthy but jealous Lord Isambard to build a church on his estate.

The novel depicts the cruelty of the feudal society matter-of-factly, using it to flesh out the story without moralizing, which would only get in the way. I think that shows a wonderful purposeful focus.

The author herself wrote that she believed this trilogy to be her magnum opus: “the best piece of writing, the story best worth telling, the characters most formidably alive.” It is true that the writing is extremely well-crafted, but that virtue can also be counted as a drawback: the writing is almost too good – bordering on stilted and pompous. Get ready to look up “villein,” “crenallated,” and “tallage.” Her Brother Cadfael mysteries (penned under the name Ellis Peters), while not as grandiose, are more compelling and joyously natural.

Title:The Heaven Tree Trilogy
Author:Edith Pargeter
Date published:1960, 1962, 1963
Genre:Historical fiction
Number of pages:899


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