St. Oswald's Niche, by Laura Frankos

>> Sunday, February 13, 2005

Since Barbara Mertz is no longer publishing any books under the Barbara MichaelsI pseudonym, I am on a perpetual lookout for books that are reminiscent of those. St. Oswald's Niche, by Laura Frankos was the latest that was recommended to me. And the author even dedicates it to Mertz, "for all her books", so I took that as a good sign.

From the moment Jennet moves in with the other students working on archaeologica digs in beautiful York, someone seems to be setting her up as a thief. Small things disappear, and her dormmates make ugly insinuations. Then, disaster: an exquisite medieval chalice uncovered in the St. Oswald's dig is stolen.

By this time, Jennet has suspicions of her own. Something very odd is going on at the St. Oswald's dig, and with the help of a fellow student from California, Jennet takes out her tools and embarks on another kind of dig -one that looks to the present for answers.
While I didn't see much of a resemblance to B. Michaels, I greatly enjoyed this one, in spite of a couple of problems. My grade would be a B.

My main problem was with the beginning, the first 60 or so pages. The book started slow, and it took me a while to really get into it. I even put it aside for a couple of days while I read something else. The main problem was that it felt very much like a first effort. I don't know if this is so, because I haven't been able to find almost any information about the author on-line, but the little I've found mentions only this particular book, so I guess it might be so. Anyway, what I mean is, the author kept "intruding" while I was reading... the characters didn't feel like real people, but like constructs the author was trying to make me believe in, and not quite succeeding. Especially the British characters, they felt like Frankos was trying way too hard. In a way, this reminded me of the two Lillian Stewart Carl's books which I read earlier in 2004.

Still, after the two-day hiatus, when I sat down with it again and forced myself through a few more pages, things started getting much, much better. I think what happened was that the plot got going, and this gave the characters something a bit more external to react to, so they started to become more real to me. It still didn't become perfectly polished, but the story moved at a nice enough pace that it pulled me along, and the plot really was interesting. I just love stories of treasures and scholarship.

The best thing about the book was the academic ambience. In that area, Frankos obviously knew what she was doing, and I was fascinated by the discussions and the work... even the lectures about medieval eclesiastical history, and the characters backgrounds in that area were beautifully done. I liked how important knowledge, even knowledge for its own sake, was for all of them, how it was valued and how they were still young, for all their expertise in subjects like Roman history or medieval warfare.

Some other positives about the book were things like the settings, the character interactions, even the romantic threads. Jennet's romance was a bit too abruptly resolved, but it was a relationship I did see a future for, so I was fine with it.

I hope the author has written something else, I'm going to have to keep searching!


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