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Chaucer and the House of Fame    by Philippa Morgan order for
Chaucer and the House of Fame
by Philippa Morgan
Order:  USA  Can
Carroll & Graf, 2004 (2004)

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* *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Set your mind back to 1370 A.D. half way into the Hundred Year War between France and England. Don't know that much about it? You will. Read Chaucer and the House of Fame and you'll feel as knowledgeable as if you've done vast research into the period.

Know Chaucer only as the time-honored poet, author of The Canterbury Tales? Well, the man had a life apart from the written word. In this account of intrigue, deception, spying, and, yes, murder, Chaucer plays a heavy role as an emissary for the royal house. He is to deliver a message to Henri, Comte de Guyac in his castle on the Dordogne. Chaucer believes the sealed message will remind Henri of his pledge to render assistance to England by helping her to retain Aquitaine, a very much prized possession. Okay, enough history. On to the meat of the story. Chaucer travels to Aquitaine with two men he does not trust. A mysterious figure lurks in the background, intent on keeping Chaucer from his mission. Various bouts of derring-do and several short romantic trysts beef up the story line.

At first, I thought the action moved very slowly, but then found myself immersed in how life was lived at that period of time. My pleasure in traveling would have died on the road back in those days. The living conditions of the gentry were bad enough, but to contemplate how the lower class lived is to shudder and thank your lucky stars for today. Geoffrey Chaucer is a very likable character - he leaves his pregnant wife, two children and a comfortable life to do what he considers his duty. To risk his life, he feels, is part of that duty. The roving group of players he meets on the road are interesting in themselves and could probably fill a book of their own. Rosamond, Henri's wife, is but a will-o-the-wisp to the storyline, but necessary for the tale to reach its conclusion. A very predictable murder takes place but the unpredictable culprit caught me by surprise.

All in all, Chaucer and the House of Fame is a very interesting historical mystery, full of intrigue and duplicity.

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