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The Owl Killers

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3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  2,983 Ratings  ·  361 Reviews
From the author of Company of Liars, hailed as “a jewel of a medieval mystery”* and “an atmospheric tale of treachery and magic,”** comes a magnificent new novel of an embattled village and a group of courageous women who are set on a collision course—in an unforgettable storm of secrets, lust, and rage.

England, 1321. The tiny village of Ulewic teeters between survival and
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Hardcover, 640 pages
Published March 26th 2009 by Michael Joseph
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Jeffrey Keeten
Aug 24, 2012 Jeffrey Keeten rated it really liked it
"Beguines are pernicious tares sown by the Devil to destroy the order of man and God. It was women that destroyed the order in the Garden of Eden, Lilith refusing to lie beneath Adam, and Eve seducing him into forbidden knowledge. Now they are hell-bent on destroying the very priesthood itself, and with it the Holy Church and all Christendom. They will drag you to hell with them if they can. I caution you not to suffer them to take root here, lest all you hold dear is destroyed and thrown in cha ...more
Annet
Jul 22, 2014 Annet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We do not know how strong we are until we are attacked by the evil of this world. - Mechthild of Magdeburg, beguine from 1230 to 1270.

A great story, sort of a mix between history, religion and fantasy.
The writing of this author and the storytelling makes you feel and taste the Dark Ages....
My second Maitland, last year I read Company of Liars, both great reads. Thanks Caro for the tip!

This is the story: 1321. In the heart of the countryside in England lies an isolated village, where pagan Owl
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Bondama
Aug 19, 2010 Bondama rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those rare books that truly stand out from the crowd. Having originally majored in medieval history, I have always been extremely impressed by those rare books set in the dark ages, or shortly thereafter, simply because of the reams of research that have to be done to make a book of this sort even halfway believable. Not a lot of people realize just how VERY different life was at that time.

This book is set in 1321 in England. At that time, in Flanders, France and parts of Belgium,
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Melki
In 1321, there were a multitude of problems. Superstition ruled the day. Disease lurked around every corner and famine was an ever-present specter. And no matter how bad that year's harvest turned out to be, the church demanded to receive its tithe. Seems like that's enough suffering for one lifetime, yet the precarious lives lived by the characters in Maitland's excellent novel are made even crappier by the existence of the Owl Killers, a protection racket putting the squeeze on the village den ...more
Wanda
Owls are among my favourite birds, mainly because they were important to my maternal grandmother Matilda and they will always be associated with her in my mind. Anyone who kills an owl is immediately persona non grata to me. My one disappointment with this book was that the followers of the pagan religion in this book turned out to be bad guys, killing owls to warn people that they were next if they didn’t conform and murdering people just as readily. However, in this novel, there is plenty of b ...more
Liza Perrat
Aug 23, 2012 Liza Perrat rated it it was amazing
Having loved Company of Liars, I was excited to read Karen Maitland’s next novel, The Owl Killers, set in Ulewic, a 14th century village near Norfolk.
For centuries, Ulewic has been ruled by both the lord of the manor and by the Owl Masters - a predatory, pagan group empowered by fear, blackmail and superstition to dispense a harsh form of law and order.
A group of religious women settles in a beguinage outside the village and when their crops succeed and their animals survive diseases, jealousy
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Anne Slater
Feb 28, 2011 Anne Slater rated it really liked it
(From my Letter to the author)

My complaint is that Owl Killers kept me up until 3 am this morning.
At nearly 69, I am not accustomed to keeping such late hours, but I simply could not put it down!

I feel quite fortunate to have come to Owl Killers (albeit by accident) with 30+ years' work as an academic librarian, a life time of voracious reading centered on historical fiction and autobiography, a quality education, and a friend who is a medievalist. I suppose, I was just waiting for your books to
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Nikki
I think this might be my favourite of Karen Maitland's books so far -- I definitely liked it more than The Gallows Curse, although it didn't grip me as tightly as Company of Liars. I have nothing really to nitpick about here, though: the five POVs were well done and cast interesting lights on each other, and I love the research Maitland clearly put into it. The very concept of a beguinage is pretty fascinating, so that helps, but the way Maitland brought this one to life -- and tried to explain ...more
Linda Bakker-Zwakhals
DNF at 55%. This book was just not for me. Nothing happend and pages were filled with people threatening and arguing about God. Really not my thing...
Jennifer (JC-S)
Dec 03, 2009 Jennifer (JC-S) rated it really liked it
‘... a legend can only die if no one speaks its name’

The setting for this novel is a fictional English village named Ulewic. During 1321-22, the village is struggling with a number of natural and supernatural forces. The villagers’ lives are shadowed by the Owl Masters and haunted by the Owlman who leaves death and destruction in his wake. The novel centres on a beguinage, a religious community of women, originally from Bruges and newly established outside the village. The tensions between the b
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Jeremy Zerbe
I picked up Karen Maitland's third novel, The Owl Killers, at my local library, on not much else than an interest in the cover artwork. Add to that my intrigue in a story about the dark, religious goings-on of medieval England (and to all of those who thought it was "too dark"... what in the world have you been reading all your life? I mean, it's about the goddamn Middle Ages), and I thought I'd really discovered a winner.

What I found was, indeed, a rather interesting story of battle lines drawn
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Arun Divakar
Oct 28, 2012 Arun Divakar rated it really liked it
God, religion and a firm foundation of faith has been matters of great befuddlement for me for a while now. We who have feared and revered everything beyond the immediate vicinity of the fire in the cave have come a long way into the multi million dollar world of organized religion. Fear has always been the riding whip for religion and power its allure. Men and women who hold sway over the multitudes with a firm grasp on the pulse of belief will commmand far more murderous mobs than a dictator c ...more
Fiona
Was it over a year ago that I read this? It must be - I remember where I was. I was working at a temporary job that involved predominantly photocopying, possibly the most dismal office I have ever encountered and, crucially, a half-hour commute that took my bus straight past Edinburgh Castle. I remember reading this book with a growing feeling of dread, looking out of the window and wondering how I could feel so grateful to be here and so dispirited about my day at the same time.

Since then, this
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Blair
At first, I wasn't certain I would enjoy this book - I often read historical fiction, but usually gravitate towards stories set in the 18th and 19th centuries, while this is set much further back, in 1321. However, once I'd got a handle on the complex plot, I found myself absolutely loving it. The characterisation and lively dialogue really bring the story to life, and the plot tackles so many issues that are incredibly relevant to modern life, while the narrative still felt authentically histor ...more
catzkc
(another stay up to midnight to finish book!). There was a sense of dread threaded throughout this story. I was worried this novel would be just one long, hopeless tragedy. I'm very happy that was not to be the case.

It's hard to tell which I like better, The Company of Liars or this (I'm leaning towards this one). They are both five starers, but each brings something different to the table.

I think this is more of an atmospheric novel, and it certainly delivers on that account. I felt completely
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Lj
Mar 11, 2011 Lj rated it it was amazing
I was beginning to wonder what I had picked up when I started to read this book because of the lack of clear structure owing to multiple characters telling their tales back and forth between each other. As I read on however it really began to work and I become more and more intrigued by the plot line and found it difficult to put the book down.

I loved the manner in which the plot had many twists and turns and really challenges your thoughts and assumptions/ stereotypes particularly when you meet
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Diane S ☔
Nov 17, 2011 Diane S ☔ rated it really liked it
Loved her first book and this one was also very good. Dark and atmospheric, Paganism vs. Christianity in the Dark ages. Compelling characters, quite a bit of terror and I am just so glad we are not living during that time period.
Lisa
1321 turned out to be a pretty cruddy year for the village of Ulewic.

Times are tough – crops are failing and the meagre harvests are blighted with mould, while the livestock is falling foul of disease, and what passes for the local power is too busy preying on the populace to be of much help.

Ruled over by a lord obsessed with chastity whose nephew is obsessed with relieving people of theirs – consensually or not - their priest is also too busy fornicating, and then worrying about getting caught
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Todd
I am smitten with Karen Maitland's writting if The Owl Killers is indicitive of her talent I will be spending many hours with her. Maitland evokes vividly the texture and realities of life in Medieval England with this novel.

She also introduced me to the Beguines, a medievel society of religious lay women who shunned marriage and the nun's veil to live in collectives. These women may very well be the first feminists who stood against the power of church and state to live lives of service. Unlik
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Amy
Dec 14, 2010 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The words were so new to me, so hard to understand. I was compelled to read the same lines over again while wanting to race on. Yet I was afraid to read to quickly, in case when the book was finished I was still left wanting." ......Exactly!

Ro sent me this book. After reading the back cover I was not too excited about it. It was dark and dirty, took place in Medieval England, and had a lot of strange sounding characters with themes set around religion and mythology/superstition. I thought that
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Anna
May 07, 2009 Anna rated it it was amazing
I love the superstitious atmosphere she creates in this book and her attention to detail gives you no doubt you've landed smack bang in the 14th century. I loved it, and won't be selling it on. I was fascinated by the beguines and the Marthas, something I have not heard of before. I'd love to learn more about them.
Sallie
Apr 13, 2009 Sallie rated it it was amazing
Set within the perils of the 14th Century, Maitland pits the power of true faith against deep-seated superstition and a corrupt church. This engrossing tale does not let up until the last page is reached. A triumphant follow-up to Company of Liars.
Freya
review to come :)
Beth F.
“I heard some of the beguines talking about the fire in the forest, about the…Owl Masters. Who are they?”

“No one knows who they are; that’s the point. Why else would they wear masks?”

“But why owls?”

“…I suppose because owls bring ill fortune and death to any house they alight on. That’s what the Owl Masters do.”


The medieval village of Ulewic has been governed by a mysterious pagan faction known as the Owl Masters for as long as anyone can remember. During the previous century, the group had lost
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C.W.
Dec 05, 2009 C.W. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Karen Maitland's THE OWL KILLERS is a compelling and creepy exploration of the clash between the pagan undercurrents in medieval England and the growing strength of the Christian faith. Set in a backwater town plagued by a despotic overlord and group of masked men who call themselves the Owl Masters —dedicated to preserving their power at any costs by exacting tribute from the downtrodden villagers and enacting terrifying nightly rites— the novel follows a number of characters from their points ...more
Kate Forsyth
I absolutely loved this book! Even though its 550 pages long, it was so compelling I read it in only a few bites. A historical novel that reads likes an intelligent thriller, it is dark, chilling, atmospheric and absolutely impossible to put down. It tells the story of a community of Beguines in the English countryside who find themselves challenging a cruel pagan sect of men who call themselves the Owl Masters. I have read about Beguines before – groups of women who neither wish to marry nor ta ...more
Jamie
May 04, 2015 Jamie rated it really liked it
Can I say how incredibly grateful I am to not be living in Medieval times? Oh I am very grateful indeed, and after reading this novel, I know the full extent of my gratitude.

Alternating between several characters, this disturbing tale has few "likeable" people and even fewer happy moments, but it is powerfully written and made me feel that I was back in the 1300s with these super-flawed (and, in some cases, downright evil) villagers. The major themes are superstition, corruption, extortion, abu
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Kathy
Outstanding! Maitland weaves a fantastic tale around a group of strong, independent women (group called a beguinage)--no easy feat in the 1330's of England. Superstition, mystery, religious hypocrisy, and the brutality of men against women in the medieval time period makes for a very intense, intriguing story. Independent thinking versus mob mentality is given a good look, with religion and superstition joining forces for the mob mentality. I highly recommend this book.
Kelly
Jul 16, 2010 Kelly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2011
What a marvellous book! I loved every minute of it and couldn't put it down last night and ended up reading it until 4am this morning!
I loved Maitland's style of writing and couldn't find fault with it.
The book was very dark, scary in places and brought home how people used to live in those times. I even learnt a few things like dog dung collecting!
My one tiny critism is that I would of loved to have known what Pisspuddle's real name was :)
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Karen Maitland has recently moved to the wonderful county of Devon and has a doctorate in psycholinguists. She is fascinated by the myth and magic of the Middle Ages, which she draws on for her novels. She experienced the medieval lifestyle for real, when she worked for eighteen months in a rural village in Nigeria, living without electricity, plumbing or sanitation.

Her first medieval thriller wa
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More about Karen Maitland...

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“She’s one of the fay folk; half of her is a woman, but she has the legs of a goat, except no one ever sees those for she hides them under her robes. She sleeps deep in the black pool while it’s day, but at witch-light she rises in robes green as pond weed, glowing in the dark with her silver hair trailing behind her. She’s so beautiful any man who glimpses her can’t take his eyes off her. but that’s just her witchery for inside she’s really a withered old crone with a heart as black as a marsh pool.” 2 likes
“You have already excommunicated half the village because they will not pay their tithes. So why wouldn't they come to us? Can you excommunicate them twice over? As for the sick, most are here because the Mother Church in her great charity has already damned them and driven them out. The churches are emptier than a pauper's purse and little wonder, for men get more solace from the alewives than from their priests. More stand now outside your church than within it. What difference does it make if you forbid them burial in your churchyard, since they cannot afford the soul-scot you charge them to be buried there? Those who still look to God make their prayers far away from the church, where the air is sweeter and their voices are not smothered beneath your hypocrisy and greed.” 0 likes
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