My Lady Judge by Cora Harrison follows 15th century Mara, Brehon (Judge) of an area of western Ireland called the Burren. Brehon Law in Ireland was a civil code far more merciful and socially liberal than the criminal laws of England. What’s striking about Brehon law, even long before the 15th century, is that women could be judges in addition to the laws being mostly progressive and equal toward women. Enter Cora Harrison’s main character, mid-thirities Mara the Brehon of the Burren, who has been studying law since she was basically in grade school. Not only does Mara act as an investigator and Judge, but Mara also teaches the young scholars attending the Burren law school. Mara is an intelligent, confident, and independent character. She is also a divorced woman (this was allowed under Brehon law) without any taboo dark cloud hanging over her head in the Burren. On the contrary, Mara is well-respected within her community as Judge of the land. Peaceful life in the Burren is upset when Mara’s nineteen year old legal protege, Colman, is murdered on Beltaine Eve. Mara must investigate this murder with the help of her young law school students.
What ensures is a historical fiction murder mystery that teaches the reader about Brehon law, 15th century Irish culture, and the beauty of the land itself. While it was interesting to learn about Brehon law and have Mara as the central figure, I actually found this book to be quite dull. Maybe I’m just not one of murder mysteries. Yes, this is slightly different due to the time, place, and cultural impacts, but most of the book just seemed bland. The writing sometimes had a flourish, but most of the time I found it to be either very dry or redundant. Sometimes the characters would speak too modern. For example, a man says Mara is the “coolest person” he knows. In 15th Century Ireland?!
If you like historical fiction and murder mysteries, you’ll probably enjoy this book. It’s also the first one in a series. If you find anything legal or investigative to be dry, then this book is probably not for you!