ffb: The Dragons of Archenfield

this is the 137th in my series of posts on forgotten or seldom read books

The Dragons of Archenfield by Edward Marston, historical mystery

This the third of Marston’s Domesday Books, following The Wolves of Savernake and The Ravens of Blackwater. I came into the series with this book, enjoyed it and bought and read the first two.

Dragons of ArchfielsThe year is 1086, two decades after the Norman conquest, and the setting is the former Welsh stronghold of Archenfield on the quiescent English border. William the Conqueror has sent tribunals throughout the lands to assess taxes and survey land-holdings. This is how information was gathered for the well known Domesday Books, and each of Marston’s Domesday novels draws upon an actual entry of this historical document.

Dragons deals with a murder, land disputes along the Welsh border, and the distrust between Welsh, Saxon and Norman. The characters are believable and the two main protagonists quite likable, each in his own way.

This third volume of the Domesday Books starts off, literally, like a house afire. The house fire traps and burns alive Warnod, a Saxon thane scheduled to testify before Soldier Ralph Delchard and lawyer Gervase Bret, the Domesday commissioners.

On the ground outside Warnod’s house, a red dragon, symbol of Wales, is drawn. Which of two Marcher lords, bitter rivals, is bent on creating trouble and why? Aided by the obstreperous, chauvinistic Welsh priest, Archdeacon Idwal, Delchard and Bret get to the bottom of the mystery but only after two bloody skirmishes. Marston clearly sketches his historical setting and the fights for the spoils of war and conquest. The pace is slow at times but the setting so interesting I hardly noticed.

I’ve continued buying the series but am currently a few books behind in my reading of it. Here are the Domesday series titles, in publication order:

The Wolves of Savernake
The Ravens of Blackwater
The Dragons of Archenfield
The Lions of the North
The Serpents of Harbledown
The Stallions of Woodstock
The Hawks of Delamere
The Wildcats of Exeter
The Foxes of Warwick
The Owls of Gloucester
The Elephants of Norwich

Recommended for readers of historical mysteries.

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More Friday Forgotten Book posts
can be found at Patti Abbott’s fine blog Pattinase

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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6 Responses to ffb: The Dragons of Archenfield

  1. I’ve read a couple of Edward Marston’s historical mysteries and enjoyed them. This one looks good!.

  2. Richard says:

    George, Marston writes a half dozen series and I’ve read at least one of most of them and enjoyed every one. As favorites, these are second only to Edith Pargeter (Ellis Peters)’s Brother Cadfael novels / stories. I like stories set in this time period.

  3. But, as I remember, you weren’t thrilled by Michael Jecks’ medieval historical mysteries.

  4. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I always meant to read one of these but I never did. In general, except for the Cadfael series I prefer my historicals be either 19th or 20th Century. I have read Marston’s book of short stories, published by Crippen & Landru (who else?), and I enjoyed it very much. I used to pick up the Domesday paperbacks whenever I came across them in England.

  5. Richard says:

    George, I liked it better after I finished it, but not as much as these or Cadfael. I just like these characters, I guess.

  6. Richard says:

    Jeff, I like historicals in various times, but have enjoyed these when I have read them, which is infrequently.

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