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Brother Cadfael's Penance (Brother Cadfael Mysteries) Mass Market Paperback – February 1, 1996
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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First of all, the characterization. Brother Cadfael is beyond likable. A practical man, he lives his faith through actions not words, and his moral compass is one that really resonated with me. The fact that he came to his calling after a long, eventful life full of war, politics and yes, women, gives his really admirable tolerance and interest in his fellow humanity a realistic cast. The other characters in this series were equally well drawn. The pragmatic Abbot. The haughty Prior. The Prior's wormy sycophant. The devil may care local sheriff, whose ongoing relationship with Cadfael is a particular delight. All written about so well you feel you know them.
This particular novel wraps up a story arc that the author would visit sporadically, always leaving me wishing for more. A youthful love affair in the Middle East gave Cadfael a son he didn't know about. The son subsequently converted to Christianity and came to England through an entirely separate path. Earlier volumes revealed how Cadfael learned of the relationship, but his son Olivier was not made aware Cadfael was his father. Now, we are at a critical turning point. Another turn of the screw occurs in the endless battle between Empress Maud and King Stephen, which leaves Olivier missing and probably a hostage. What does a father who has chosen to forsake all worldly ties do? This book is about the answer to that question, and besides the exposition of Cadfael's moral dilemma, gives you a rollicking adventure story, early politics,a murder and its resolution, and finally, an ending worth waiting for.
"Brother Cadfael's Penance" is the last book in this lustrous series, and it also happens to be my least favorite because Brother Cadfael gives up his vocation to go looking for his son, Olivier de Bretagne.
In November 1145, Cadfael's friend, Hugh Beringar obtains a list of Empress Maud's supporters who have been imprisoned after they were betrayed while holding a castle for her:
"At the end of the scroll, after many names that were strange to him, Hugh came to one that he knew. ‘Known to have been among those overpowered and disarmed, not known who holds him, or where. Has not been offered for ransom. Laurence d’Angers has been enquiring for him without result: Olivier de Bretagne.’"
Hugh shares the news with Brother Cadfael and off he goes to find and free his son, if he is still among the living.
This book is still worth reading if only because it rounds off the series, and we do finally get to meet Empress Maud, who is not a very likeable person at all. She made me wonder why anyone supported her, much less Brother Cadfael's brilliant swashbuckling son.