I absolutely loved this book, which is the first I've read by Karen Maitland.
Set in the early 1300s, It could be made for me and my interests, exploriI absolutely loved this book, which is the first I've read by Karen Maitland.
Set in the early 1300s, It could be made for me and my interests, exploring as it does issues which include the position of women in life and in religion; alternative, powerful, female communities (the Beguines); the tensions between the corrupt medieval Church and the remnants of Pagan worship and superstition in the English countryside.
Its hero(ines) and villains are not caricatures (although two of the males, the D'Acasters, veer in that direction). Both the main and the supporting characters are beautifully written with all their human flaws and fears.
The book is divided into chapters which are each the thoughts and experiences of one of the characters, so we follow the story through the eyes of five individuals who each bring their own perspective and back story. This works very well because it gives both continuity and immediacy. I also rather liked the marking of time by Saints days rather than dates, with a little vignette of the Saint concerned at the beginning of each section. It adds to the medieval setting. For example:
"December - St Egwin's Day - To prove his innocence of a crime of which he was accused, St Egwin locked his feet in irons and threw the key into the River Avon before walking to Rome. There he bought a fish which he cut open in front of the Pope and inside was the key."
The novel is really well-researched, I felt myself back in the hard, harsh life of medieval Norfolk. The horrors of the witch-burnings are foreshadowed here in the trial by water and condemnation for heresy. It's a graphic reminder (if we need one) that the fears and violence in all of us are only just under the surface in our so-called civilised world.
Not everything is explained and resolved: the book keeps some of its secrets and mysteries, and that's one of the things I enjoyed about it.
Delighted to have found another author I really like, and will be starting another of her books very soon! ...more