Wonderful books: The Janna Mysteries

August 23, 2011 at 8:13 pm (Favourite books) (, , , , )

Felicity Pulman is an Australian author who’s written many beautiful books, including the Shalott Trilogy and the amazing Janna Mysteries. They’re full of beauty and wonder and magic and history, and while they’re considered young adult books, they enchant people of all ages…

Rosemary for Remembrance

The beautiful first book in a wonderful series.

Young Janna lives in a tiny cottage on the edge of the forest with her mother Eadgyth, the village herbwife. But twelfth century England is a dangerous time to be a woman and a healer, and the oppressive influence of the new priest and the jealous male apothecary can be felt throughout. When Eadgyth dies suddenly, Janna suspects her mother has been poisoned, and vows to find the killer and avenge her death. But the villagers and the Church are set against her, superstition and fear has warped the small community, and several people have explosive secrets they’ll kill to protect. As Janna tries to unravel the mystery of her mother’s death and the identity of her mysterious father, she realises that her own life is in danger, and her quest becomes more desperate.

Although I had never considered these to be crime novels, Janna does have to solve a murder and several other mysteries, and reveals great detective skills. The writing is suspenseful and the plot twists intriguing, yet it is not limited the crime genre – it is also a beautifully written story of Janna’s coming of age, there are elements of romance, action and medieval English history woven in (some teachers even use it as part of the curriculum), and fascinating characters that are archetypally powerful – the healer, the maiden, the crone, the protector, the innocent, the villain – as well as totally engaging and true to life. I especially love the descriptions of English life in this period, the clash between the Old Ways and the Church, and the magical properties of the herbs that the wise woman and her daughter work with to heal people and protect their community. (Anyone who loves Juliet Marillier’s beautiful books will love the enchantment of these.)

And Janna is a wonderful heroine. Not perfect by any means – she’s hot headed and hot tempered, speaks before she thinks and is so stubbornly independent that it’s often to her detriment. But she is kind too, and fiercely intelligent, with a thirst for knowledge and justice that compels her to leave all that she’s ever known to set off on the quest that will unfold over the next five books – to avenge her mother’s death, find her father, and discover her own heart… Each of the Janna Mysteries ends with the solving of an epic mystery – along with more questions, so you are left desperate to start reading the next one (even now, as I re-read them all)…

Although it’s many years since I was a “young adult”, this series will appeal to anyone who loves adventure stories with mystery, historical weight and a magical twist.

Rue for Repentance

The second book in a wonderful, mysterious series.

Felicity Pulman’s storytelling prowess continues in this epic story of love, revenge, mystery and adventure. Young Janna, who had to flee her home after her mother was poisoned, her cottage was burned down around her and the whole village turned against her, starts this book running for her life through the ominous forest. Disguised as a boy to protect her on many different levels, she finds herself teamed up with a fellow fugitive and taken on as a worker in the fields of a manor. But there is mystery afoot, and she finds herself playing detective again as the scenes of several supposed accidents are each marked with a posy of rue. Can she find the culprit, and the motive, before the crimes escalate any further? What will she do when she discovers who owns the manor, and their relationship to her enemy? Can she make peace with the two men she cares about? And will she be able to save the life of an innocent child, or be blamed for the ultimate crime?

I first read this, and the others in the series, a few years ago, but on discovering that the final two books of the Janna Mysteries have now been published, I’ve re-read the first four in preparation. And they’re as involving, intriguing and suspenseful on a second read as a first. The author creates such a realistic world, filled with characters you care about, mysteries with many suspects, and a twist of enchantment that will draw you in to the lives and loves of these medieval country folk. Each of these books is unique, set in a totally different location and with many new (as well as old favourite) characters, and can be read on its own, as a self-contained mystery. But as part of the series it has even more weight, and seeing Janna learn and grow through each adventure is a lot of fun.

Lilies for Love

The third book in the wonderful Janna Mysteries.

In this instalment young Janna, on the run from the ruthless man who plots to kill her to protect his secret, seeks sanctuary in the abbey. Despite her distrust of the Church and her dislike of the Abbess, she comes to like life amongst the nuns, and is surprised when she makes a friend and finds a kindly old infirmarian who continues her education as a healer. While her main goal in being there – to learn to read so she can unravel the secrets of the letter her father sent her mother before she was born – seems thwarted, she finds a new sense of confidence and purpose in healing the sick and advising those around her, and she continues to learn much about herself and the world.

Janna is again faced with a murder and several other crimes to solve, and the pace is brisk and never dull, with much intrigue and mystery, and the introduction of a few shadowy, dangerous characters. Life behind the abbey walls is not quite as peaceful as you’d imagine, and there are a few sinister plots to unravel. The various nuns Janna comes to know are fleshed out with great depth – and the kindness, serenity and faith of some of them is well balanced with the petty jealousies and spiritual searchings of others in this group of women cut off from the world and dedicated, some more willingly than others, to God’s work. It’s a testament to the skill of the author that there are no caricatures amongst the characters, and that it never seems strange that a teenager is the one to seek justice, solve crimes and see to the truth of a situation.

Janna is also growing up, and in this adventure she comes to question her own religious beliefs, and those of her mother, and is shocked as she learns more about parent’s past. She also comes into contact with the two men she cares most about, who she thought she’s never see again, and she is torn between the longing in her heart for love and protection and her determination to continue her quest to prosecute her mother’s killer and discover the identity of her father.

This is another beautifully written book, with so much research put into the historical narrative – as the Empress Matilda defends her claim to the English throne from her cousin Stephen of Blois – as well as the herbal medicaments and potions that Janna dispenses to the sick, and the flowers which are used to symbolise so much in convent life. Suspenseful and intriguing, it’s hard to put it down, and the resolution at the end, while wonderfully played out, only brings more questions, and an eagerness to quickly begin book four…




1 Comment

  1. serenesblessedbee said,

    […] I reviewed books one to three of The Janna Mysteries by Felicity Pulman here… […]

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