Best book of the Week!
At first The Candlemass Road seems like it will be a romantic adventure story similar to Lorna Doone, but George MacDonald Fraser was an expert on the border counties of England and Scotland and far too cynical for that, so it is an adventure certainly, but not a romance.
Lady Margaret Dacre has not been home to Askerton Hall in Cumberland since she was four years old, but now her grandfather Lord Ralph Dacre has been murdered and rumor has it that Lady Margaret has been sent away from court by Elizabeth I herself. At the beginning of the novel, all of the hall’s servants, including the narrator Frey Luis Guevara, a Catholic priest, are frantically preparing for her arrival.
Young and beautiful, she arrives in a temper. She has been accosted on the road by George Bell, one of her tenants, who has come to complain that he has received no help from her bailiff about the dreaded Nixon clan, who has demanded blackmail. None of Lord Dacre’s tenants have had to pay blackmail because he protected them, but after his death, his men at arms all departed.
When Lady Margaret asks Land Sergeant Carleton for protection for her people, he says the problem lays outside of his purview–he has merely come to pick up a prisoner. Incensed, Lady Margaret refuses to give him the prisoner, who was caught stealing bread and cheese from the kitchen.
The thief is a broken man–that is, one who has no master or clan–named Archie Noble the Waitabout. Lady Margaret is about to let him go free when she finds he got his horse from a famous villain, who tried to murder him in his camp. Already angered by Archie’s impudence, Lady Margaret declares him a murderer and threatens to hang him unless he goes by himself to aid the Bells, whose blackmailers return that night.
The short novel is beautifully written with dialog in a northern dialect that is still understandable, with Elizabethan expressions thrown in. The novel is an exciting yet chilling and occasionally humorous picture of the time and place.