And Then I Read: THE MINSTREL’S TALE

© Berit Haahr, illustration © Tristan Elwell.

This is a first novel, and as far as I can tell the only published book by the author. It tells of a young girl, Judith, in 14th century England who has a great talent for music in a time when women played music only casually in the home. Judith longs for a music career, not the marriage to a much older man her father has planned for her, and when a traveling minstrel in the King’s service visits their home, she sees exactly the kind of life she wants. Robin, the minstrel, tells her of a school for minstrels in distant Kent where he learned his craft, and Judith plans a desperate escape from her obligations. Disguised as a boy, she sets out to reach that place, hoping to find a life in music there. Hunted by her father’s men, “Jude” as she’s now calling herself has help from an old healing woman, and gains ownership of a hunting falcon to help protect her, but still meets lots of trouble on her journey across England, including being beaten senseless and left for dead at one point.

I enjoyed this story, though the plot relies on luck and coincidence to keep Judith’s secret from those around her, stretching credibility a little at times. Still, the characters are well-developed and the plot entertaining and often exciting. Haahr’s research into the time, places and people, as well as the music, seems thorough, and the settings come to life. The one thing I thought a bad choice plotwise was beginning the story with a prologue that has “Jude” arriving half-starved and much the worse for wear at the minstrel school, then going back to tell most of the story of how she got there. That took some of the suspense out of things when she was in danger, since we know she’ll get to her goal. It’s still a good read and recommended.

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