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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

All For One and One For All---Gotta Get That Hand and Bury It!

The French Executioner (French Executioner, #1)The French Executioner by C.C. Humphreys
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anne Boleyn has an audience with her executioner the night before she is to lose her head. She requests that he also remove her hand, the infamous six-fingered hand, take it to a crossroads in the Loire Valley and bury it there. She wishes to keep it out of the hands of those who would use it for their own ends after her death. This is a historical novel--Anne Boleyn did exist, the second wife of Henry the VIIIth, history says she did have six fingers on one hand, the sign of a witch. A Frenchman, Jean Rombaud, was brought to London to execute her using a sword, apparently a more humane beheading than the ax. As to removing her hand and transporting it for burial on some rural crossroads in the Loire Valley, that, my friends, is the novel part.

Naturally, no quest is easily accomplished and this is no exception. Within a very short time after arriving in France, Jean is relieved of the pouch and the hand it contains. He is placed in a gibbet and deserted after being badly beaten by the huge German bodyguard of the depraved Giancarlo Cibo, Archbishop of Siena. The gibbet caretaker is a one-handed German with a pet raven, Daemon. He is the first of the followers Jean will gather as he starts on the trek to retrieve the hand and fulfill his vow to the Queen. For the telling of the tale, the German, known only as Fugger, releases Jean and demands to be taken along.

The story moves throughout France to Tours, with many skirmishes along the way and the addition of a giant Norseman, Haakon and his wolfdog, Fenrir. Continuing on the journey, they finally catch up to Cibo but their effort to succeed is thwarted by another, also trying to catch him. This is a young, sling-shot bearing Italian boy, Beck, who becomes yet another member of Jean's entourage. There is time spent by Jean and Haakon as galley slaves headed to Italy. When they successfully get out of that situation they have acquired the last of their group, a Muslim Croatian, Januc. So, the group of four is assemble, a Catholic, a Muslim, a Pagan and unbeknownst to them, a Jew.

The adventure continues--a Black Mass, held inside a giant kaleidoscope, that was much too ribald for me, Sienna during the annual Palio, a monastery and village made insane by St Anthony's fire, Giancarlo's mad brother, an Anabaptist takeover of the Fugger's hometown in Germany. It is every swashbuckling movie with swordfights and leaps and swirls you've ever seen. It is the Day of St Anthony's Fire which occurred in 1951 all over again, it is the Palio of Romeo and Juliet in another year. There are battles and escapes and chases and forest madness galore. The story is fun and fast moving and like the three Musketeers our heros are different in everyway but all for one and one for all and each is endearing. To say nothing of the Raven who quotes "Hand" instead of Nevermore and the wolfdog who is ever alert and defending. There is even a herbalist seer in the deep dark woods who aids our troop in escaping one more time.

Just a fun and fast read for those who like medieval quests by men who aren't knights but could have been, with a little cleaning up.

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