Set in lavishly described medieval England and France, The Canterbury Papers is an enthralling and suspenseful debut novel combining dark family secrets, duplicity, and a missing heir to the throne.
The wily Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen of France and then of England, sends her former ward, Alaïs, the sister of the king of France, to retrieve a cache of letters hidden in Canterbury Cathedral. Letters that, in the wrong hands, could bring down the English king. In return, Eleanor promises to reveal a long-held and dangerous secret involving Alaïs -- a bargain the French princess is powerless to resist.
Within the fortnight the letters would be delivered to Fontrevault Abbey. Then Eleanor would be happy, and I would finally get the information she had promised.
So engaged was I in the arduous task of rising that I failed to hear the slight sound behind me that would have signaled my fate. Instead I was taken completely by surprise. The only thing I felt was a strong hand around my neck, another around my waist, and -- before I could cry out -- I smelled the thick, sweet scent of a mandrake-soaked cloth. Unforgiving hands clapped it against my face, and all went dark.
Before Alaïs can complete her mission, she is abducted, an event that sets in motion a dangerous plot. It will require all of Alaïs's considerable strengths, along with help from the very intriguing leader of the Knights Templar, to unravel dark secrets, unmask evil villains, and escape with her life.
A vividly rendered, spine-tingling historical novel filled with intrigue and peopled with compelling legendary figures, The Canterbury Papers is an extraordinary tale from a brilliant new writer.
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Judith Koll Healey indulges her hobby, medieval history, when she is not working as a consultant to family foundation boards in solving planning and dynamics problems. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.From Publishers Weekly:
This engaging medieval suspense debut is alternately playful and sober in its exploration of the power maneuvers and backstabbing of the royal families of England and France. The story, set in the early 1200s, is narrated by Princess Alais Capet, a bored and somewhat bitter member of the French nobility, long passed over for both matrimony and higher status. Ala‹s is approached by Queen Eleanor, who asks her to retrieve a secret and highly personal cache of letters hidden in England's Canterbury Cathedral. Eleanor won't explain the importance of the letters, but in return for salvaging them, she promises to divulge family secrets that Ala‹s could use to her advantage. Alais, frustrated by the slow and tiresome life at the French court, agrees to run the errand, but when she reaches Canterbury, she finds not only the letters missing but a trail of dead bodies in her wake. Just as she is about to depart for home, she's abducted and taken prisoner by King John, an inept and insecure leader who views Alais as an important pawn in his attempts to strengthen his tenuous grip on the throne. Healey's well-researched historical drama many of the characters and circumstances are based on real-life models delights in poking fun at the stuffiness and misbehavior that characterized the royal families of the time. The pace may be a little too leisurely for some readers, but Alais's tart, wry perspective makes this age-old story fresh and absorbing.
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