Eleanor of Wynethorpe, daughter of one of King Henry IIIs most favored barons, is appointed prioress of Tyndal, a small branch of the prestigious, powerful Fontevraud monastery. She is only twenty, very young for the post, and it is no surprise that her capabilities are mistrusted and her appointment resented. Worst of all, upon her arrival, first one than two more murders occur, and Eleanor must deal with a now terrified flock.
Brother Thomas, a young priest with a troubled past, also has just arrived at Tyndal. The wary but increasingly respectful relationship between the young prioress and priest sets the tone for the storys theme of destructive and redemptive love. Further complicating the plot are class distinctions within the monastery, and the over 200 year mistrust of the Saxon villagers toward the predominately Norman aristocratic clergy.
The Order of Fontevraud was one of the rare orders of double houses where a woman was in charge of both male and female monastics. The mother house was in France: there were four daughter houses in England.
The author does a credible job attempting to recreate the design of a double house monastery, as well as its surrounding village on the remote East Anglian coast. In her Forward she notes that some of the most independent, highly educated and powerful women in history lived during the medieval time, and that in some orders nuns had relative freedom and awareness of secular life. Yet, Eleanor and her sister nuns are held back by the commonly held belief of many monks that women were incapable of deep thought, and that it was unnatural for Adam to be ruled by Eve.
The lengthy Forward explains the Fontevraud Order, its famous female devotees, and elements of period social life that allow for a greater appreciation of the story. This is the first of two Eleanor of Wynethorpe mysteries.