It is recommended that you read the first four Crispin Guest novels in order. Though each book stands on its own, the plots of previous books have a lot to do with the growth of the characters as the series progresses. Some questions below might be difficult to answer if your group has not read the previous volumes.
In late 14th century London, disgraced former knight Crispin Guest spies a body hurtling from the uppermost reaches of London Bridge. Crispin’s attempted rescue fails, however, and the man—an armourer with a shop on the bridge—is dead. While whispers in the street claim that it was a suicide, Crispin is unconvinced. He discovers that the armourer had promised Sir Thomas Saunfayl something that would make him unbeatable in battle. Sir Thomas–a friend from Crispin’s former life–believes that the item was in fact the Spear of Longinus—the spear that pierced the side of Christ on the cross—which is believed to make those who possess it invincible.
Complicating matters is another old friend, Geoffrey Chaucer, who is suddenly anxious to help Crispin find the missing spear…and locate Sir Thomas, who must face a trial by joust to determine whether he lives or dies. Desperate to help, Crispin, along with his faithful apprentice Jack Tucker, hunt for the spear while dodging the various powerful factions determined to have it for themselves. Through danger and trials, Crispin finds that the safety of England may have landed solely in his hands.
Cast of Characters
Crispin Guest, the Tracker*
Jack Tucker, his apprentice*
Robert Coterel, a tailor*
Anabel Coterel, his daughter*
Bill Wodecock, steward at Westminster Palace*
Bishop Juan Gutierrez, a Spaniard
Don Gonzaluo de Castilla, a Spaniard
Don Lope Perez, a Spaniard
Gilbert Langton, proprietor of the Boar’s Tusk*
Eleanor Langton, his wife*
John Charneye, coroner
William More, Lord Sheriff of London
William Staundon, Lord Sheriff of London
Abbot Nicholas, abbot of Westminster Abbey
Brother Eric, a monk of Westminster Abbey*
Brother John Canterbery, a monk of Westminster Abbey
Henry, earl Derby, son of the duke of Lancaster
Geoffrey Chaucer, a poet
Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk
Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford
Sir Osbert, a knight*
Sir Thomas Saunfayl, a knight*
Lucas Stotley, a clerk*
*denotes fictional people
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. In VEIL OF LIES and SERPENT IN THE THORNS, the sheriff was Simon Wynchecombe. In THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT it was John Froshe and Nicholas Exton. And in BLOOD LANCE, the sheriffs are William More and William Staundon. Discuss the character of the different sheriffs so far. How are they different in this novel?
2. The chivalric code means that a knight is first and foremost to come to the aid of his lord. Sir Thomas has broken that code. Was there any other way for Crispin to react?
3. London is an important setting, almost a character itself. And in this book, London Bridge takes on its own character. Discuss the sense of place in the novel. Does the author bring it to life? What more do you want to know about fourteenth century London?
4. Crispin’s relationship with Geoffrey Chaucer is complicated. Discuss the nature of it.
5. Jack Tucker is now fourteen years old. In what ways has he matured and it what ways does he still have a long road ahead?
6. Crispin is teaching Jack more and more. What does this say about Crispin? His time period? About Jack?
7. Crispin still seems to be mourning the loss of a lover. What do you feel about that and his tangled sense of himself?
8. Class structure always comes up in the novels. Crispin constantly fights with it, with who he used to be versus who he is perceived to be now. He notices people’s rank by their clothing and accent and by that their ability to pay his fee. The more the plots lead him to court society the harder it is for him to fully investigate. Discuss this class structure and how Crispin manages to navigate it.
9. The actual history in the background plays a major role in this novel. The author says about historical fiction: “The history is the timeline on which I like to hang my fiction.” In other words, the history is accurate, and the fiction follows it, not the other way around. Does the fictional tour help readers understand better the history that everyday people had to live in those days? What are some of the ways life was different then versus life for you now? How are they the same?
10. The joust. Given Crispin’s chivalric code, his personal sense of honor, and his almost melodramatic penchant for taking risks, is it realistic? Does Crispin follow the chivalric code, or is he in fact breaking it? What did you think of the joust?