The lady judge of the title is Mara, a Brehon in medieval Ireland. She runs a law school and is courted by the local king. The names of characters and places are all Gaelic. All these aspects make the book unique in my experience and I was not entirely comfortable with it at first. It was a struggle to remember who was who when I couldn’t recognize the female names from the male. I still have no idea of the geography and I’ve never been a fan of historical fiction. It also is a rather slow-paced book. Mara seems overly interested in flowers for my taste, especially those blue gentians. So at first I was rather impatient with the book. Had it not been for the fact it was chosen for my book group, I might not have finished it.
I’m glad I did. The gentle pace grew on me after a while and I certainly appreciated the lack of cursing, torture, and crudeness one finds in too many mysteries these days. Eventually I was able to distinguish almost all the characters and the careful and detailed development of each. As an attorney, the discussion of Brehon law was fascinating to me, although I have no way of knowing how accurate the author’s portrayal of it is. The chief distinction from English criminal law seems to be that punishment is always a fine and depends heavily on the victim’s “honour price.” There is no imprisonment or death penalty, even for murder. Don’t be misled. There is a murder early on and that forms the central plot line, so true mystery fans will have their raw meat to chew on. But the author likes to take us on a history lesson disguised as a detective story and I fell for her ploy. She hid the pill inside the candy very well.