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Thread: The Heaven Tree (Vol. 1)

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    The Heaven Tree (Vol. 1)

    Edith Pargeter (who also writes as Ellis Peters) was one of my favourite authors. She had a remarkable ability of writing novels which remain anchored in everyday life in the Middle Ages but which subtly include the sweep of history. Her stories are located in Shropshire and the Welsh Borders, reflecting her own background. I have read all the books on Brother Cadfael written under her name of Ellis Peters. I have also read the four volumes of The Brothers of Gwynedd. But this is about the Heaven Tree Trilogy, easily the best of her work.

    The Heaven Tree , The Green Branch and The Scarlet Seed comprise the trilogy. Set in the 13th century The Heaven Tree is so called as an allusion to the new architecture of soaring light-filled churches that were replacing the squat Norman style. Harry Talvace fled to France after he and his commoner friend Adam Boteler, Harry's breast brother being low-born, were held for shooting a deer. In France, Harry is inspired by the soaring churches and dreams of designing and building one. He meets a Welsh border Lord, Ralf Isambard who takes him on to design and build one for his border castle, Parfois, the seat of his Anglo-Welsh fiefdom. Isembard is a Marcher Lord of the Kings of England, with estates also in France. This opportunity gives Harry Talvace the chance of a lifetime to become a Master Mason, and build the church of his dreams.

    But Harry’s compassionate impulses make him a misfit in harsh feudal society. Rivalry grows between Harry and Isambard over Madonna Benedetta, an ex-courtesan who lives with the lord but loves Harry, although she knows that he loves the lass Gilleis, who now is pregnant with Harry's child.

    The book is beautifully written, especially towards the end when Isembard grants Harry a last wish before execution by disembowelling by a skilled Gascon executioner.

    Benedetta contrives to get Harry to wish for Benedetta to be his bedfellow for his last night before execution, involving a public denouement that deliberately humiliates Isembard in one of Edith Pargeter's most moving passages in the entire trilogy.

    The Gascon's execution is never done, for Benedetta arranges for Harry to be shot by John the Fletcher, which he does. Isambard, in his jealousy condemns Madonna Benedetta to die with Harry, but she escapes and bears Harry’s son away with her. Harry's son is adopted by Llewellyn the Great, Prince of North Wales and is brought up in his household as his own son to revere his natural father after whom he is named. This sets the stage for Volume 2.
    Last edited by Dreamwoven; 11-14-2014 at 05:25 AM. Reason: clarify text

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    An Historical Note to Vol. 1

    It is impossible to do justice to these three volumes in a brief review. So before beginning the second volume I want to put the first volume into some sort of context, while at the same time fleshing out some of the historical context within which the story is set, and that makes Edith Pargeter's books so special.

    When Talvace and Boteler flee, they do so to Shrewsbury Abbey to seek sanctuary. Here after recovering from their ordeal, Talvace begs audience with Abbot Hugh de Lacy, to put his case for sanctuary from the verderer of the chaise where the two boys were found near the body of a deer. There ensues a scene in which Talvace puts the case for his villein breast-brother, Adam Boteler to be spared losing his hand as punishment. Abbott Hugh listens and questions Talvace about the circumstances in some detail, before advising Talvace that this is not likely to work though he would argue for it as best he could.

    The two boys flee once more in the covered wagon of a merchant where they meet the merchant's daughter, Gilleis Otley, a young girl, who later bears Talvace' child. The merchant is going to France to sell his merchandise and the two lads go with him and Gilleis.

    Now I must cut this review short before it becomes as long as the book. In France Talvace is inspired by the cathedrals and churches that were then being constructed - especially Chartres Cathedral and the Abbey of St-…tienne, Caen. In France Harry and Adam also met Isembard and, separately, Benedetta. Here, too, Isembard offers to finance Harry to build a church for his Parfois Castle. Harry accepts the generous offer, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

    The main point of this historical note is to show how Edith Pargeter weaves into her tale historical details. Even Hugh de Lacy is the Abbot who was also the Abbot in the history of the Abbey. Brother Cadfael was also located here in Pargeter's series of novels The Cadfael Chronicles, that she wrote under the name of Ellis Peters.

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    Robert Holden Mythago Wood

    Anyone familiar with Robert Holden's work? Mythago Wood is just one of a whole series of books by Holden. Set in the Welsh borderlands, this book has an atmosphere of mystery and strangeness. I will try to borrow more by him of the mythago cycle.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dreamwoven View Post
    Anyone familiar with Robert Holden's work? Mythago Wood is just one of a whole series of books by Holden. Set in the Welsh borderlands, this book has an atmosphere of mystery and strangeness. I will try to borrow more by him of the mythago cycle.
    Actually, Robert Holdstock. Yes, one of my absolute favorite fantasy series, and way overdue for a reread. I was very saddened when I recently learned of Holdstock's death a few years ago.
    You must be the change you wish to see in the world. -- Mahatma Gandhi

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    I missed that, about him having died. Great shame, he was only 61.

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