Helewise, the former Abbess of Hawkenlye Abbey has finally left the Abbey to be with the man she has come to Love, Josse, d'Acquin. But even if she has left the Abbey, she is coming to fear that the impulse to be a nun and live her life as one hasn't left her, and she may always remain a nun in her heart. Josse fears this as well.
At Hawkenlye, the Abbey Helewise left behind, her chosen successor, the Abbess Caliste, is visited by soldiers of King John, excommunicated a year ago, who intend to take over the Abbey. The King is determined to seize the Abbey assets in return for the Pope excommunicating him. And not only their abbey, but others as well. While Hawkenlye Abbey has many rich lands, the King has seized their assets for his own, and his agents have told Caliste to record carefully every penny that goes in or out, and to keep the accounts ready for view by the King's agents at any time. And since the King is seizing their assets, they will be granted a fraction of the money that comes in for the Abbey to spend.
Meanwhile, Josse and Helewise are comforted by their close families, but when her granddaughter, Rosamund, goes missing after visiting St. Edmund's chapel, both of them must come together to find out not only who took Rosamund, but what her captors want from her, and with her. Is her kidnapping meant to take money from Josse and Helewise's families through Ransom, or was she just a victim because she was a witness to something she shouldn't have seen? And who is the man whose dead body was found in the woods not far from where Rosamund was snatched? Can Josse and Helewise sort out the mystery while discovering where Rosamund is and rescuing her from her captors?
Meanwhile, another boy, Ninian, is chased by the forces of a King to stop him making a crucial quest to find the mother of one of the sons of the Sherriff of Tonbridge. Should he manage to find her, he must talk with her, and tell her about her son. But along with the quest he is on, there is another, more hidden one that he is also on, and he has no knowledge that he is making a sort of pilgrimmage to take something back to her. But can Ninian reach the woman and fulfill the terms of his quest, or will the ending change his ideas about his fate?
I love Alys Clare's writing, which is solidly set in the thirteenth century. King John has been excommunicated because he disagreed with the Pope's choice for Archbishop of Canterbury, and the country is in turmoil because of it. Indeed, the political situation, and the turmoil it threw the country into is very well done here, but the mystery part of the book is perhaps not as good or interesting as it could have been.
I found what happened between Josse and Helewise a bit sad, as well as the decision she makes at the end. I honestly wonder where their relationship is going to go from here. I can't say more without giving what happened away, but I can say that I don't think either can move back, only forward from here. I can't see how they will work together in the future if this doesn't get resolved, and I would hate for this series to end.
The mystery is a little weak, but the political stuff more than makes up for it in this book. It's still interesting and a good read, but in this case, probably not one you should read as your first entry to the series if you hadn't read any of the previous ones. Recommended, but not highly.