Original date of publication: 1980
My edition: 1980 (St. Martin’s Press
Why I decided to read: heard about it through HFO
How I acquired my copy: From the library, Febryary 2010
What would happen if you were suddenly thrust back into the 12th century? What would you do? Where would you live? What would you wear? What would you eat? How would you travel? What would your attitude to life be? And how would you seek justice, if you’d been wronged?
Fitzempress’ Law is a novel that succeeds in answering these questions. It’s the story of three teenagers from the present who are thrown back in time when their motorcycle crashes. Pete becomes a knight; Len becomes a villein; and Sal becomes a novice, set in a convent when her betrothal goes awry. Soon, all three must use the law—that of the King, Henry II, also called Fitzempress—in order to right wrongs that were visited upon them.
It’s a brilliant evocation of the late twelfth century—the sights, the smells, the people, all come alive, because all aspects of the twelfth century are vividly described. She even gets the medieval mindset down right. Even if I hadn’t known much about Henry II’s England, I would have learned a lot about the period anyways, because all the details are so absorbing. And, because these three main characters come from such different walks of life (as their past selves) there’s a lot to cover. So often, authors who write about this particular period focus on the big stuff: the kings, queens, popes, and wars. It’s great to see an author who focuses on the small stuff as well.
Norman (who has written a number of novels under her other name, Ariana Franklin) has clearly done her research, but she doesn’t hit her reader over the head with it. Rather, she unfolds bits and pieces of the 12th century at a time, as it applies to the course of the plot. Especially well done is Norman’s description and understanding of legal matters.
However, I did feel as though the modern-day personalities weren’t as well drawn out (mostly, I suppose, because Len, Sal, and Pete are all in a coma as all this goes on), and they seemed to become a little too adjusted to the past, too quickly. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this novel. Highly recommended, if you can find a copy somewhere—prices online for it tend to be exorbitant. They really need to reissue this one!