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The Scribe    by Antonio Garrido order for
by Antonio Garrido
Order:  USA  Can
Amazon, 2013 (2013)
Softcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

It gets dizzying trying to track who are the good and bad guys (and readers will change their minds often along the way) in The Scribe (translated by Simon Bruni). It's a rollicking medieval adventure (with early forensic elements) written by Antonio Garrido, also author of the well received historical, The Corpse Reader.

It all takes place in 799, in the time of Charlemagne (who has walk on parts here). Our heroine, young Theresa, is the daughter of Gorgias, who has fallen down in the world. They live in Würzburg, Franconia, though they spent Theresa's early years in Constantinople. She longs to be a scribe like her father, and has trained hard to do so. She has even won the agreement of mysoginistic Korne of the he parchment makers' guild to test her - but will it be a fair test?

Certainly not. And it culminates in an accidental fire for which Theresa is blamed. Indeed, everyone in Würzburg ends up believing that she died in the fire, as she flees. Attacked by Saxon bandits, she's saved by the attractive Hoos Larsson, an official of Charlemagne's, only to come to his rescue later in the story. Fearing that he'll force her to return to Würzburg, she steals off in the morning, taking his dagger for protection. She finds refuge with old Althar and, almost accidentally, helps him kill a bear, before continuing to Fulda.

In the meantime, Theresa's father, his arm injured in an attack, is imprisoned and forced to make a copy of a document, whose existence will change the balance of power in the region. In Fulda, Theresa befriends Helga, a prostitute and works as a scribe for Alcuin, a powerful monk close to Charlemagne and with some of Sherlock Holmes' talents. They solve various mysteries together and Theresa makes another friend, Izam of Padua, the king's engineer.

The story rambles through landscapes and genres before various plot threads are tied back together in Würzburg, where many surprises are revealed, including the nature of the document on which Gorgias labored for so long. It's great entertainment and the author makes readers feel that they are in the medieval period in all its misery and opportunity, along with the young scribe.

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