Barbara Geisler

ACCLAIM for Graven Images

Abbess Emma, troubled by knowledge of the Abbey steward's financial perfidy and wondering how she will pay for the new altar decoration, welcomes famous carver Hugo to Shaftesbury Abbey. It is 1140, a desolate time fraught with lawlessness, prejudice, and danger, so when a young townswoman is found murdered, blame falls on the only Jew around, the same who lent money to the Abbey. Hugo, Emma and sacrist Dame Averilla, however, defend the Jew, hoping to find the real killer before anarchy prevails. This follow-up to Other Gods (a Ben Franklin Award finalist) brings the Middle Ages to life with authentic, nitty-gritty detailing, picturesque surroundings and realistic characters. Geisler, former head librarian for the SF Performing Arts Library and Museum, lives in Northern California.

Library Journal, March 1, 2005


Graven Images is a superbly written historical novel/mystery on par with The Year of Wonder. The author has been a head librarian at the San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum, and her superior knowledge shows in the quality of her writing. Her story is about a Benedictine Abby in England of 1141 and the nuns and their supporting, surrounding community. A young woman of the village is found dead under suspicious circumstances. A Jewish goldsmith/money lender becomes the prime suspect. He also is the holder of a significant number of expensive loan notes to the Abbey. An itinerant sculpture of Church art shelters the Jew until he can determine the true culprit. The title is apropos to the subject's Church art; however, it is also to the author's ability to craft visual descriptions of this medieval community. She paints such realism and understanding on the canvas of her book pages with words that clearly describe what it was like to live in these times and conditions. The book is filled with characters who must rise above and beyond their routine to deal with the conflicts of life, politics, and Church hierarchy, which the author so craftily weaves into a tapestry of the story. We are shown the world views of a myriad of people—some uplifting and some superstitious and hateful. In all, this makes for a fascinating read. We scored it a high five hearts.

Heartland Reviews, December,2004


This second book in the Averillan Chronicles series is set in 12th-Century Shaftesbury, at the Benedictine Abbey of nuns. A young woman is murdered, and the people of the town decide that Master Levitas, the Jewish moneylender and goldsmith, is responsible. While this plot provides the backbone of the novel, it is an extraordinarily rich book with multiple storylines. The language and descriptions give a strong sense of the period, and the characters are fascinating. The abbess, Emma, is slowly growing into her position of authority and attempting to cope with the Abbey's severe financial problems. Several of the nuns are adjusting to changes in their responsibilities, and some English residents of Shaftesbury are still grappling with the loss of lands and wealth under the Normans. (While this book can be read independently, I highly recommend reading Other Gods first, which takes place one year earlier and provides full introductions to many of the characters ). The precarious position of Jews in medieval England is vividly portrayed. A fascinating subplot involves Master Hugo, a renowned artist who has come to the Abbey to undertake a commission, the young boy who travels with him, and Hugo's relationship with Levitas. Geisler provides very useful supplementary material: maps of the town and Abbey; the seven offices of Psalms, with their times; a cast of characters; a glossary; and a section explaining key elements of the story, and where her fiction meets facts. The power this book held over me was such that I got up in the middle of the night to finish it—I could not fall asleep without finding out how things were resolved. I recommend it highly.

Historical Novels Review, Issue 33, August 2005

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