The Returning opens with a scene of medieval domestic tranquility. As the view widens to show the tensions between the parents and their oldest son, who is playing with his little sister, it becomes clear that this tranquility was hard-won in battle. When Cam Attling returned to the town of Kayforl, he was met not with sympathy for the arm he lost in 12 years of fighting, but with suspicion: If all his fellow soldiers died in combat, why did Cam survive? With the community against him, his betrothal called off and his family unsure how to treat him, Cam journeys out in search of answers. Why did the lord who cut off his arm spare his life? And if Kayforl is no longer home, where does he belong?
Author Christine Hinwood has created a lush world for her characters, rich with detail and evocative language. The stench of the stables and the body of a decomposing dog contrast with the warm conviviality of the pub and the elegant fabrics of the royal Uplanders (complete with highly specific folding instructions). By varying the characters’ point of view from one chapter to the next, it’s not just Cam we come to know and care for, but his family, the people he encounters in his travels, even the man who should be his sworn enemy.
There’s bawdiness worthy of a Canterbury Tale, and a few romantic misunderstandings that echo Shakespeare’s comedies. Among many captivating characters, Cam’s sister Pin is a thoroughly modern medieval woman, deserving of a novel of her own. The Returning is a beautiful novel, epic in scope, yet its strength lies in the smallest of gestures, closely observed. When it ends, with matters brought full circle in unexpected ways, your heart will be full . . . and hungry for more.