Brother Cadfael’s Penance



by Ellis Peters

Published 1994

It took Peters almost 20 years to publish the 20 Cadfael books.  The final installment, Brother Cadfael’s Penance, was published in 1994; Peters (whose actual name was Edith Pargeter) died in 1995 at the age of 82.  I am EXTREMELY glad that she was able to finish this book first.  For me, one of the most beautiful parts of the Cadfael books is the way that they all tie together.  Throughout the series, you not only come to know Cadfael himself, but many of the other brothers and townspeople.  Peters tells the story of a man who has followed his faith throughout his life, first during the Crusades and then as a monk, and who, despite these widely different lifestyles, is at peace with the choices he has made.

I think that it is the very humanness of her characters that makes these books so readable.  She certainly has her share of flat, shallow characters, but the ones who reappear in multiple books definitely take on depth and portray the many facets of human choices and life.  In this final book, Cadfael has to make some of the most difficult choices of his life, decisions that impact not only himself, but the fates of many others, and Peters writes about the agony of those decisions with beauty and poignancy.  Sometimes life does not present us with clear black and white choices, and life never presents us with people who are wholly evil or wholly good.  Dealing with those decisions and individuals is no easy task.

Every time I have reviewed one of these books, I have recommended the series.  This review is no different – these are excellent stories, beautifully written – stories that are not only decent mysteries, but wonderful reflections of humankind.