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Brother Cadfael's Penance

(Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #20)

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  4,106 ratings  ·  228 reviews
While Cadfael has bent Abbey rules, he has never broken his monastic vows--until now. Word has come to Shrewsbury of a treacherous act that has left 30 of Maud's knights imprisoned. All have been ransomed except Cadfael's secret son, Olivier. Conceived in Cadfael's soldiering youth and unaware of his father's identity, Olivier will die if he is not freed.
Paperback, 255 pages
Published February 1st 1996 by Mysterious Press (first published January 1st 1994)
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Average rating 4.24  · 
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 ·  4,106 ratings  ·  228 reviews

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Tiffany Wacaser
Aug 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Who would have thought that a mystery book would make me cry? But cry I did. The book was simply a lovely end to a delightful mystery series. Brother Cadfael, the main character and a Benedictine Monk has to make a hard decision when he discovers his son has been captured by an enemy. If he strays too far from the dictates his leader has given, he could be in danger of losing his chosen vocation as a Benedictine monk. He loves his service as a monk, but his call to see after his son is equally ...more
Jul 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Excellent, outstanding conclusion to one of my favorite series of all time. The previous book, Holy Thief, is an effective conclusion to Cadfael's story in Shrewsbury. This book is the conclusion of Cadfael's personal story. It's set outside of Shrewsbury as Cadfael travels, without leave or sanction, to find Olivier. Cadfael has often played a bit fast and loose with the rules but he has never broken his vows to the Order. He does so now because he believes that Olivier takes precedence. It's ...more
Sep 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“We are born of the fathers we deserve, and they engender the sons they deserve. We are our own penance and theirs.”

An excellent close to the Chronicles. Pargeter ties off several threads, but leaves enough dangling to tantalize the reader, even as she probably knew she would not write further. She died the year after this volume was published.

“What would be called constant in the father would be more truly stubborn in the son.”

Many of the ensemble characters from the entire series are allowed
Deborah Pickstone
The final volume of the adventures of Brother Cadfael. This novel examines the nature of the relationship between parents and children and the issue of where duty lies if two opposing duties collide and diverge. So, the nature of personal morality lies at the bedrock.

The reason I think these little books are so popular - and are far better than all the imitators since - is that Pargeter unashamedly grapples with morality. I have read several other long series' of Medieval whodunnit type novels
Nov 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The last in the series of 20, all good, most very good, and this comes to a truly satisfying ending. Peters has created a masterpiece in this series--characters are complex and one is eager to see them again after they are introduced; plots (although I read the books practically back-to-back) are not repetitive; the history is accurate and interestingly presented; Brother Cadfael is someone you wish were a personal friend. And religion is presented well, woven into life, with some theologizing ...more
Michael Carlson
Feb 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Sad to say but this is the final book in the Cadfael series by Ellis Peters. I've enjoyed every single one of them. My worry in this one was whether the series would end with the now-65-year-old Cadfael dying! The plot suggested it could well have been a possibility! Cadfael offers himself as ransom to release his son (whom he had only recent discovered having in his days before the cloister!).
Without giving any more away, this novel is wonderful, a fitting conclusion to a great series.
Nancy Ellis
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the final book of the series, and it definitely has the feel of finality about it. I don't know if the author planned on its being the last one, but since she died shortly after it was published I guess we'll never know. We are made more aware than usual of Cadfael's advancing age as he leaves the Abbey to search for his son who has been taken hostage. Church leaders have summoned King Stephen and the Empress Maud with their supporters to a summit in an attempt to bring peace to the ...more
Feb 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical, mystery
What a perfect, fitting end to a series that has proven a pleasure and a joy. There were a number of truly excellent books in the series, but the author saved the best for last, and wrote a lovely, moving finale for Cadfael.

I've always enjoyed that Brother Cadfael is a settled adult, comfortable with himself and tolerant of others, but one of the elements that really made this book work was the fact that for once, we get to see him in turmoil, and struggling, and unsure of himself and what the
Michael Jones
It is awkward to say that I started with book number 20 in this series...

Having admitted that, it is exceptional! She has a great economy of words and grasp of proper protocol and customs which bring the characters out in full bloom!

And this is the real beauty of this: she is totally unaffected by the modern tendency to pooh-pooh the church when you speak of the Middle Ages. She puts the church in a very winsome perspective. The worldview in these books is one in which I can sink my teeth into
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the last in the series, and I was not disappointed (most of these have been 3 stars for me).

Cadfael's son, who he knew nothing about until an accidental encounter some books earlier in this series, who came from a relationship he'd had in the middle east while a crusader, has been captured, and so he requests leave to see if he can obtain his release. Almost no one besides him knows this is his son. He travels with Hugh as far as he has permission to go, and, sure enough someone is
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Lance by: Baby Adam
"He had never before been quite so acutely aware for the particular quality and function of November, its ripeness and hushed sadness."

I know, why does the Cadfael series have to end, with so many medieval mysteries that could yet be solved?

"He painted a battle that could neither be won by either party nor lost by either"

No series can go on forever, but it's hard to say goodbye to old friends made through the course of 21 books, 21 mysteries solved together.

"There was no other way but straight
As the final book in a solid medieval mystery series, it does a good job to include past events and closes with a nice wrap on Cadfael's devotion and family ties. He struggles between faith and fatherhood, but ultimately everything works itself out. While a nice cap to the series, I felt the book on its own was average with respect to all the others. The actual mystery ran in the background and Ellis Peters placed the character's internal struggles front and center. Too much emotion and flowery ...more
Wayne Farmer
The final novel in the Cadfael series (though not the final story as there are several short stories to come).
Again the Murder mystery is really just a bookend and gets forgotten about for much of the story, but there is good reason for this. The novel ties up the background story of Cadfael and his son, with Brother Cadfael leaving the monastery at Shrewbury, perhaps for good, in order to find his son and rescue him. This was the story I had been waiting for as it is Cadfael's most personal
Nathan Albright
Nov 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
“It is enough,” said Abbot Radulfus. “Get up now, and come with your brothers into the choir.” So ends the last novel of the Brother Cadfael series [1], a novel written while its author had a year or less of life left to her in the mid 1990’s. It is a fitting and proper end to an excellent series of mysteries, even though this novel is certainly among the most unusual of those mysteries, and among the most moving and dark, which is saying a lot. In this novel, Brother Cadfael leaves the safety ...more
Mar 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Thoroughly enjoyed this book, the more so because of the poignancy of it being the final instalment in Cadfael's story. The narrative style took a little while to get into, but has a gentle lyric that really captures the mood of the unfolding story. In brief, Cadfael hears that he son has disappeared at the end of a battle and sets out to attend a peace conference where survivors of the battle might be able to help.
The conference ends in murder, which leads to our sleuthing monk becoming trapped
Marilyn Saul
This last-of-the-series book interested me the least. There was just entirely too much focus on all of the myriad parties involved in the conference to hash out some sort of peace between Maud and Stephen.
Iona Sharma
Aug 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the story that wraps up the series, and it does it well. I love Cadfael as a character but he's often slightly to the side of the stories, being the detective, of course, and also cloistered from the world. This one is definitely about him and his past, and I really liked it.
Linda Finlayson
Jan 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good conclusion to the series. Wobbly theology but a good way to the wind up Cadfael's story.
Aug 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010
This is the last mystery novel of Brother Cadfael’s adventures (there is a book of three short stories, or novellas, which I shall read next), and I am sorry to bid Brother Cadfael adieu; but this particular mystery is a very good one, and deals with a crisis of competing values for our good Benedictine. I very much enjoyed this book, and hope to read it again (with the other nineteen books in the series) in another ten years or so.

It is the spring of 1145, and the maneuvering between the forces
Jun 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I have just finished reading "Brother Cadfael's Penance", the 20th Chronicle of the Welsh monk from Shrewsbury. Sadly there shall be no 21st Chronicle.

There was a special note at the beginning of "Penance" that explained that as the book was going to press the author, Edith Pargeter (Ellis Peters), had passed away.

I had come late to these Medieval mysteries. Though the first book had been published in 1977, I hadn't discovered Cadfael until the early 1990s. I would pick up a copy here and one
Jan 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
I have reviewed many of these in this series in the last few days as I try to finish the series before the end of 2008. Well one to go, but after this, the penultimate, can it get better? If you can get past that there is little need for a mystery, for the body is truly a device to continue the action of what is a first rate historical.

We have spent twenty tales with Cadfael and Hugh and the others of the times. We have Bishop de Clinton, and Earl Beaumont, and even King Stephen. Now we meet
Sep 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery, england, medieval
In the on-going feud between King Stephen and Empress Maud, the castle at Faringdon changed hands to Stephen's forces. Most of the men taken captive were offered for ransom, but there were a few whose whereabouts were unknown. Among them, Olivier de Bretagne, Cadfael's son. Hugh brings him the news. A joint council is to be convened in a neutral site for the purpose of seeking a peaceful resolution to the on-going conflicts. Cadfael requests, and is granted, permission to leave the Abbey in ...more
Andrew Doohan
Jan 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The last volume of The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael doesn't disappoint the true fan of Cadfael and his adventures in the time of upheaval in which the series is set.

This volume again, like a few of the latter volumes, focusses less on the discovery and uncovering of murder most foul, and more on the story of Brother Cadfael himself. Bringing to a close some of the overarching storylines, this volume is a fitting conclusion to the series.

I have enjoyed my journey through The Chronicles - more
Jun 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
Reread: It is definitely more of a historical, and a story about fathers and sons. The murder mystery is practically an afterthought. I am a little skeptical of the way one of the central conflicts was resolved, but I don't know enough about English history to know that the story isn't just elaborating on something that actually happened. All in all, an enjoyable end to the Cadfael series.

I'll have to reread this again when I've actually read all the ones that came before it. Another of the
Althea Ann
Feb 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is the last in the 20-volume Brother Cadfael series, and the second in the series that I've read. (I previously read #11).
I'd sort of expect any writer to be getting a bit weary of a scenario or character after 20 installments, however nothing of the kind came through for me. I thought this was a quite well-written book, not too bogged down by tropes of the mystery genre, with a nice mix of politicking and family drama. I found it to be more convincing and believable than many medieval
Oct 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"His arms he spread wide, clasping the uneven edges of the patterned paving as drowning men hold fast to drifting weed. He prayed without coherent words, for all those caught between right and expedient, between duty and conscience, between the affections of earth and the abnegations of heaven... for all those labouring for peace through repeated waves of disillusion and despair, for the young who had no clear guidance where to go, and the old, who had tried and discarded everything...

Chris Fitzgerald
Sep 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery-crime
As usual with Peters, it's more about the characters and the way they interact than it is about plot. While this tale is full of both, the best thing about it is that it's not painted in black and white; characters that initially appear to be unlikeable turn out to be more likeable once you understand them better (and vice versa). While the battle scenes and inherent action they bring weakens the sauce a little, it's still a fitting end to a brilliant series, and fans of the previous books won't ...more
Jan 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Book #20 is one of the best Brother Cadfael books that were written. "Word has come to Shrewsbury of a treacherous act that has left thirty of Maud’s knights imprisoned. All have been ransomed except Cadfael’s secret son"

The history of this event is fairly well known and accurate, although of course Cadfael did not actually play a part in it. Very nicely done with just the right tone and character development.

Recommend strongly..
Paula S
In this book Cadfael goes away from the convent without the abbot's permission to save someone important to him. There is less focus on mystery and more on the war, with Cadfael caught up in a siege, and the bond between parent and child. I enjoyed it, but was at the same time slightly depressed to find how old and tired Cadfael had become. I believe this is the last book in the series and it feels like it's time to let him rest in peace.
Vicki Cline
Jan 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is the last Brother Cadfael book, and he does something unthinkable - leave the abbey in order to find his son. Olivier has been fighting for Empress Maud in the struggle between her and King Stephen and has been captured but no one knows where he is. Cadfael wants to get him ransomed - there are people who would pay the ransom, but need to know who has him. Lots of intrigue in this one, with good and evil people on each side of the fight.
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A pseudonym used by Edith Pargeter.

Edith Mary Pargeter, OBE, BEM was a prolific author of works in many categories, especially history and historical fiction, and was also honoured for her translations of Czech classics; she is probably best known for her murder mysteries, both historical and modern. Born in the village of Horsehay (Shropshire, England), she had Welsh ancestry, and many of her

Other books in the series

Chronicles of Brother Cadfael (1 - 10 of 20 books)
  • A Morbid Taste for Bones (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, #1)
  • One Corpse Too Many (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, #2)
  • Monk's Hood (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, #3)
  • Saint Peter's Fair (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, #4)
  • The Leper of Saint Giles (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #5)
  • The Virgin in the Ice (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #6)
  • The Sanctuary Sparrow (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #7)
  • The Devil's Novice (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, #8)
  • Dead Man's Ransom (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, #9)
  • The Pilgrim of Hate (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, #10)
“The voices of cold reason were talking, as usual, to deaf ears.” 24 likes
“In the end there is nothing to be done but to state clearly what has been done, without shame or regret, and say: Here I am, and this is what I am. Now deal with me as you see fit. That is your right. Mine is to stand by the act, and pay the price.

You do what you must do, and pay for it. So in the end all things are simple.”
More quotes…