Blood Oath by Felicity Pulman

Blood Oath by Felicity Pullman(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Love, revenge, secrets – and murder – in a medieval kingdom at war.
A young woman, left alone and destitute after the mysterious death of her mother, plants a sprig of rosemary on her grave and vows, somehow, to bring the murderer to justice. But who can Janna trust with the truth? Even the villein Godric, who wants to marry her, and Hugh, the dashing nobleman, have secrets that threaten her heart and her safety.
In a country torn apart by the vicious civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda, Janna needs all her wits and courage to stay alive as she comes closer to those who are determined to silence her forever.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

I’d previously read I, Morgana by Felicity Pulman so although I normally wouldn’t pick up what amounts to a medieval murder mystery, I decided to request Blood Oath on NetGalley anyway.  She did such a good job with the Arthurian legends I stepped out of my comfort zone to give this one a try.  In the end, I’m glad I did.

Janna is a young woman living with her healer mother, a bit of an outcast in the community because of her rather progressive views on religion but someone who was generally respected enough to come to when people were in trouble.  But when a lady calls Janna’s mother to help her with her birth and then again when the infant won’t suckle, Janna’s life turns upside down when she is called to the manor to discover her mother dead.  It doesn’t take long for her to realize that her mother was of course poisoned, but who did it?  How can one teenager girl, completely alone in the world and an outcast in her own community, solve a mysterious murder that no one thinks was a murder?

Clearly, we have an interesting plot in the beginning but it does get even more interesting.  As Janna roots out suspects and tries to establish a timeline of events leading up to her mother’s death, religious tensions within the community flare and Janna’s position becomes even more precarious than before, particularly since she’s a woman living on her own.  I can’t really go into much more detail about the plot because it would give away some of the pretty cool plot twists, but needless to say Janna does find her mother’s killer and it’s not who you would expect or for the reasons you would think.

The murder mystery itself is pretty fascinating, but it was the characters that really caught my attention.  Janna herself is pretty progressive for a woman at the time because of her mother’s independence but she still is a woman of her time.  She knows that speaking out too much on certain topics can endanger her very life so she has to tread a fine line between standing up for what she believes in and not rocking the boat too much.  But when she discovers who really murdered her mother, she decides to act rather than carry on without carrying out a little bit of justice/revenge.  Janna is obsessed with finding her mother’s murderer, particularly because they argued so much in the few days leading up to her death.  So there’s an element of guilt driving her but also a sense of duty and justice.  She wants things to be right and balanced but knows that it’s not always possible in medieval England, particularly with the vicious civil war being waged close to her community.

In Blood Oath, Felicity Pulman has clearly done her research about the time.  I’m no expert on medieval England but she lends a very authentic feeling to the novel by using the old spellings and old names for where the action takes place in the novel.  Instead of using Oxford, she uses Oxeneford, just little stuff like that. I was also fascinated by the detail she went into for describing medieval remedies for various ailments.  Clearly, she has done her research and she says in her Author’s Note that all of the background events in the novel are very true: there really was a civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda (sometimes known as Maude) being waged in England at the time and it really did split loyalties as is described in the novel.  It will be interesting to see just how much of an impact the civil war has on Janna since she decides to leave her village at the end of the novel.

To sum things up: Blood Oath isn’t the most fascinating book I’ve ever read because the plot is a little slow in the beginning but it is a good book. The characters are good but I didn’t think they were anything special and Felicity Pulman’s research was excellent.  So if the blurb has interested you, I would recommend giving Blood Oath a try.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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