This book immerses you in the rich history of the late Medieval world even as the incongruous plot asks the reader to accept that a nun from the English Cistercian priory at Swyne would be selected to travel to Italy to purchase a precious relic, the Cross of Constantine. Hildegard, however, did join the order as a young and wealthy widow. And, her religious calling seems less interesting to her than the secular world of commerce and politics. It is not surprising, then, that during her journey she takes up the cause of a minstrel unjustly accused of murder, while at the same time deals with threats on her own life from an old enemy.
Intertwined into the plot are some 1383 realities. The devastation brought by the Black Death is still present. Two popes, Urban in Rome and Clement in Avignon, vie for supremacy. There are counter-plots against King Richard II. Savage reprisals are undertaken by Richards regent John of Gaunt against both peasants and nobles after Wat Tyler's Rebellion, and the Italian city states must rely on mercenaries like Sir John Hawkwood to maintain their independence.
The intricacies of midieval commerce are revealed through the trade in prime English wool which was carried from the manors and monasteries of Northern England, across the channel, through Flanders and France, and over the winter Alpine passes to end their journey in the textile workshops of Florence. Descriptions of the commercial life of Bruges and Florence are particularly well done.
This second book in the Hildegard series contains a number of incompletely explained references to events and personalilties in the first book. The unresolved issues left hanging at the end indicate a third book will follow. There is a glossary, timeline, and map of the pilgrim and trade route called the Via Francigena.