Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tyrant of the Mind by Priscilla Royal

The title of Priscilla Royal's second novel featuring Prioress Eleanor of Wynethorpe, Tyrant of the Mind, comes form a seventeenth century play by John Dryden. It is stated in a line from Act 3, Scene 1, "Song of Jealousy". It's very appropriate to this novel where murder nearly takes a back seat to the green-eyed monster.
Prioress Eleanor is recalled to her home, Wynthethorpe Castle when her young nephew is taken ill. Sister Anne, whose care and healing abilities bring the boy back from the brink of death, and Brother Thomas accompany her on her sojourn. While the nephew Richard is on the mend, Eleanor's father Baron Adam is in negotiations with his close and dear friend, Sir Geoffrey for the marriage between Eleanor's brother Robert and Geoffrey's daughter Julianna. Although the baron's children and the knight's were childhood friends, they are no longer youngsters. After the death of his wife, Sir Geoffrey married his ward, Isabella, who was expected to marry his son, Henry and has opened a wide rift between the two men.
As the knight and his retinue arrive at Wynethorpe Castle for the continuation of negotiations, the chasm separating father and son is widened even more as Sir Geoffrey loudly accuses Henry of recklessness which resulted in the death of a retainer. Later, Henry is stabbed to death and Eleanor's brother Robert is found standing over the body holding a bloodied knife.
Even though it looks bad for Robert, no one, not even Sir Geoffrey, believes he could carry out such a heinous act, against his childhood friend. But it's not up to them to decide. As law dictates, Baron Adam locks up his son in a very comfortable cell. Eleanor is grateful that a snowstorm has delayed any message getting through to the sheriff. She, Sister Anne and Brother Thomas struggle to make sense of the mystery and find out who killed Henry before the roads become passable.
Then the castle priest Father Anselm nearly dies after being pushed down a staircase. Pressing with her investigation, Eleanor learns a hideous truth behind Julianna's marriage to Sir Geoffrey.
In a race against time, the trio from Tyndal Priory uncovers jealousy, humiliation and lies in abundance. Royal adds more intrigue into this story and the plot becomes more complex. Prioress Eleanor finds herself increasingly in a struggle between loyalty to her family and her faith. Royal's portrayal of her is more meaningful in Tyrant of the Mind, more so than Wine of Violence. In the first we see her struggle against the nuns at Tyndal, who are angered at such a young woman being appointed their prioress. She wins over them with grim determination. In Tyrant, she has the same stubbornness but she must deal with her father, the only man who can match her hard-headedness and wit. Her usual straight-forward thinking is confounded as she realizes that her childhood friends have long lost their innocence and are now almost strangers. She must face ugly truths about her own family.
Eleanor is reminiscent of Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma, a nun/sleuth in seventh century Ireland. They have many of the same qualities and temperament.
Royal's second novel is a wonderful read and can probably satisfy the discriminating tastes of readers who don't like mysteries. The depiction of thirteenth century England brings the past alive and vivid even in gray, snowy weather. Tyrant of the Mind will please any reader no matter what the weather.
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