Friday, August 31, 2018

Review: The King's Justice by E.M. Powell

The King's Justice (Stanton & Barling, Book #1)
by E.M. Powell
Release Date: June 1st 2018
2018 Thomas & Mercer
Kindle Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-1542046015
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

England, 1176. Aelred Barling, esteemed clerk to the justices of King Henry II, is dispatched from the royal court with his young assistant, Hugo Stanton, to investigate a brutal murder in a village outside York.

The case appears straightforward. A suspect is under lock and key in the local prison, and the angry villagers are demanding swift justice. But when more bodies are discovered, certainty turns to doubt—and amid the chaos it becomes clear that nobody is above suspicion.

Facing growing unrest in the village and the fury of the lord of the manor, Stanton and Barling find themselves drawn into a mystery that defies logic, pursuing a killer who evades capture at every turn.

My Thoughts
The King's Justice is the first book in the Stanton & Barling mystery series, and it was definitely not what I was expecting.  I think I was expecting a grander historical novel, with more historical figures, but it was much better than that as the story took us to a simple village and a murder that took place there, but the reader also got a glimpse into what life was like during this time period so I found it really interesting.  Much better than if it was about the famous historical figures.  

Whatever you may say or think about Henry II, and there is a lot of to say about him as he was well-know for his temper and bullying behaviour, he definitely accomplished a lot during his reign, one major accomplishment being the establishment of the new English judicial system, which included courts and prisons, and some very strict rules.  While some of the rules are not something we would see today, thank goodness, many of them did acknowledge the role of the Church in their lives and often left final decisions to God.  So, throwing a trussed up person into a deep pit full of dirty water to see if he floats or drowns is one of the ways matters were decided back then; if one floats, he is guilty and is immediately hung, if he sinks, he often drowns but is declared innocent.  

First of all, the main characters, Barling and Stanton, are still dealing with previous traumas with definitely have an impact on their lives in this novel as well as some of the choices they make. Stanton appears in The Blood of the Fifth Knight so I was already familiar with his story and understood his anger toward Henry II.  It doesn't really impact the story here though, but if you're interested that is where you'll find his story. I loved Barling and really enjoyed his more serious mien; hints of his background were given several times but no explanations were given at this time. 

What is hard when reading a historical novel such as this is placing oneself during the time period and not trying to relate it to our modern time period when things are so, so, so different.  While Stanton abhorred the cruelty that was often seen, a lot of it had to do with his background and not necessarily because he was against the cruelty itself having grown up with it - understand?  People relied on their lord to keep them safe so if their lord was cruel or whatever, their protection was gone and they suffered horribly.  And in order to keep the peace, the consequences of breaking the rules was usually quite severe, creating a culture of fear.  So it's not surprising that Stanton would have difficulty getting information during the investigation and would have to earn the people's trust as some of the secrets could get those people into a lot of trouble.

The story itself was very interesting, with lots of twists and turns, some of which I didn't see coming.  I thought the characters were quirky and each had an interesting tale to share, trying to make it through life despite the difficulties they faced.  The Lord was okay, but definitely not fully trustworthy, selfish and always looking out for his own interests.  I really enjoyed both Stanton and Barling as a team and thought they worked very well together, with Barling mellowing quite a bit throughout the story, and Stanton showing that he had some backbone and some insights that would help the investigation.  The pacing was really good and who I thought was the murderer was way off, which surprised and pleased me as I don't get surprised very often.  The only thing that kind of bothered me was the ending; the author kind of switched formats towards the end as if she didn't the reader to be able to figure things out on their own and that bothered me a little bit.  Having everything laid out for you is not always the way to go - I like figuring things out for myself.

The King's Justice was a solid book that was both entertaining and enjoyable.  While there were quite a few twists and turns, sometimes I felt there were too many and I thought for a while the story was going to get out of hand and run away.  Luckily the author managed to reign it in and pull everything together.  Barling and Stanton are a solid team and I am looking forward to seeing how they work together in the future and develop this fledging relationship they have started.  It should be interesting to see how much trust they develop in one another and whether it will be enough to share their secrets.  The King's Justice is much more than a historical mystery and you get quite a good sense of the time period and what it was like to live under the reign of Henry II.  I am definitely looking forward to reading the next book in this series, The Monastery Murders, coming September 27th.