It's 1338, the Stone of Scone has been stolen, an explosion has occurred in the Cathedral right as King Richard and Queen Anne are there to attend the Feast of the Holy Virgin's Nativity.
Crispin is there (amongst the 'rabble') at Jack's bidding (pleading rather), 'his apprentice, a rangy boy and now [Crispin's] match in height, though the lad was only fifteen.'
When the explosion occurs of course they both rush towards the action, only to come under the King's gaze and then be subjected to his ire. Years previously Crispin had been stripped of his knighthood for treasonous actions against the King.
Jack is hauled off to the dungeons and Crispin is given three days to find the stone or else Jack's life is forfeit.
Crispin is submerged in Scottish plots and counterplots, enough to make even the Tracker's head ring with the complexity--and often inanity. Meanwhile Jack is befriended by Crispin's friends in high places and does his own investigating.
Both are pursuing the problem from different ends, both are coming to similar conclusions. When Jack helps a young wife who is in distress things become even more interesting.
I love that Jack keeps minding his behaviour and finds himself concerned for his honour, so delightfully telling in little reflective conversations he has with himself. He wants to do his master proud--and he does!
Crispin's search is made even more interesting by the addition of 'John Rykener ... who sometimes goes by the name "Eleanor" to, er ... ply his trade.' John is a cross dressing male prostitute, whose proclivities certainly help Crispin to winkle out information from folks in the know. In many ways John becomes a little like Crispin's conscience as he points out things that Crispin should be paying attention to with regard to Jack now that he's older.
I am sure that there is a note of wistfulness and love in John's voice as he and Crispin part.
We have no woman chasing after Crispin in this novel. We do have an artifact of religious significance, the Stone of Scone. In many ways the absence of some lady that is interested in Crispin or vice versa, getting in the way of Crispin's task, is a relief.
We do have high born and important ladies adding to the tension of the story. Their stories are important to the plot, but they are not Crispin's downfall. Jack plays a major, absolutely delightful, though harrowing, part with this regard. He is a wonderful source of tension and richness for the plot. I felt that as Jack comes-of-age, so Crispin find a renewed emotional place to some degree. Brilliant!
As always Westerson's research and working knowledge of the era is impeccable. I must say I really liked the cover, the brooding Cathedral sets the tone.
A NetGalley ARC