Recommended to me by a good friend after I placed a social media call-out for books set in medieval times that I haven’t read (it’s becoming harder!), I purchased The Wayward Apprentice by Jason Vail, not really knowing what to expect. At 99 cents on Amazon, it’s beyond a bargain and, I have to say here (as both a writer and reader), that it astonishes me that books can be sold so cheaply – especially when you consider the labour and love, the research and time that goes into the production never mind the fact that there are writers out there trying to make a living from this. I do become concerned that when something like a book is sold so cheaply, it isn’t really valued and consequently that impacts on the perception of all books, writers, publishers and, ultimately, the act of reading itself. The Wayward Apprentice is certainly worth valuing as a well-written tale and for the knowledge and history underpinning the story.
OK. Off my soapbox now and onto the review…
Part of a series featuring an injured knight, Stephen Attebrook, who takes on the role of Deputy Coroner in Ludlow, The Wayward Apprentice introduces us to the main character, the town he lives in and some of the colourful characters who inhabit the area. Called to investigate the death of a man found in a field and who it’s assumed was so drunk he stumbled into a puddle and drowned, it’s only later that Stephen discovers his initial misgivings about the manner of death may yet prove to be right. When, along with his clever friend, Gilbert (a former priest who now runs an inn with his wife), Stephen is asked to find an apprentice who has absconded before finishing his contract, he finds connections between the dead man and the missing youth.
The further Stephen examines both cases, the more trouble he finds himself in as dead bodies, attacks, distressed damsels and mayhem ensues.
A medieval who dunnit (and that, and that), it faithfully recreates the period but without being didactic or obvious in its detailing. The prose is stark but effortless and while the mystery isn’t complex, the characters, for all the brevity of the novel, are. There are shades of light and dark to the melancholy knight, Gilbert and his long-suffering wife as well as the apprentice and the other women who populate the novel. Faithful to the social and gender mores of the time, this book isn’t complex or confusing (as some mysteries are wont to be) but it doesn’t sacrifice a sense of reality either and as a consequence, is very entertaining.
If you like the Sister Frevisse mysteries, then you will like this too. I also have to add that I’d have been very happy to pay more for this book.