***REVIEW from BOOK BABE***
I’ve read medieval mysteries characterized as medieval noir, but Sinful Folk by Ned Hayes is as noir as it gets. The medieval villagers we meet in this novel have dark secrets, and a number of them have either committed terrible deeds, or stood by without protest while they were perpetrated. Many of the nobility who think of themselves as superior are no better. Characters who have principles are seen as simple and childlike. Christianity is not the faith of a loving God, but one that justifies acts of cruelty and intolerance. Welcome to a 14th century England where chivalry is very nearly dead, and hearts that are pure are likely to be pureed.
Many contemporary readers prefer dark fiction because they consider it more realistic. I am not one of them, but I do appreciate historical fiction that is well-written by a writer who has done some homework about the period. He certainly knows the work of Geoffrey Chaucer whose Canterbury Tales is the most iconic piece of literature associated with this era.
The author’s note “About Edward the Black Prince” interested me because The Black Prince looms large in the back story of the protagonist, Mear. Ned Hayes tells us that the motto of the Black Prince “Houmout” is mysterious, and that there is no scholarly agreement about its meaning. I have the tendency to run searches about historical issues in the books I read because I was a history major as an undergraduate. That’s why I wanted to see whether there was any consensus about Houmout. Indeed there was one. Everywhere I looked Houmout was said to be from Old Flemish or Low German, and that it meant courage or honor. There may be scholars who see Houmout differently, but I didn’t find any mention of such a disagreement in the online sources that I could freely access. The speculation in Hayes’ note is interesting, but it involves a major plot spoiler. So I will not discuss it further here.
The mystery of the four dead youths of this village who were burned alive is at the center of the narrative. Surprising developments arise during the process of discovering the truth about this awful crime. The truth about various characters changes over the course of the novel as their secrets are uncovered. I thought that the protagonist had layers of complexity while still being sympathetic. I wanted her to triumph against all the obstacles in her path, and I liked the bittersweet ending.