Very tough book to give a star-rating to, but if I must, lets say a 3.75 rating not rounded up.
Not that there are spoilers here, because there aren't...moreVery tough book to give a star-rating to, but if I must, lets say a 3.75 rating not rounded up.
Not that there are spoilers here, because there aren't, but if you're settling in to read this book, you may want to be able to form your own ideas about what you're reading, so wait until you've finished it yourself before reading what I've written. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm going to mark the rest of this review as "SPOILER ALERT" so no one can be pissed if they think I've ruined things before they've even read the book. Read at your own peril.
I've written up my thoughts here; feel free to go take a look there at a longer version of what I'll say here.
This book opens with the characters in a delightful state of bucolic bliss on a christening day, so naturally, after a while I started to get curious about the book's cover art and why a blurb on the back notes that "The Black Spider was a horror story of its day." Then the "gotcha": as the post-christening festivities commence, a question about a "rough black window post" built into the newly-built home leads the grandfather to tell a story about events that had occurred in the area hundreds of years ago, one passed on through the generations. And oh, what a story it is.
A group of Teuton knights has returned from Poland and Prussia, having bent sent there to "fight the heathen." While there, they got caught up in the lifestyle, and on their return, continued to live, each "according to his own nature and pleasure." The worst of these was Hans van Stoffeln of Swabia, and he took a lot of pleasure in persecuting the peasants. First, he took them away from their land for two years by ordering a huge castle on a hill. When that was finished, and just as the peasants were rejoicing that they could get back to feeding their starving families and tending their livestock, von Stoffeln makes another demand -- they must now build a shaded walkway. He wants particular trees from a location that is hours away, and he wants everything done within a month or disastrous consequences will follow for the peasants and their families. Thoroughly in despair, because this is an impossible task, the peasant men wonder how they're going to tell their loved ones. At that moment a huntsman, dressed in all in green (hitherto referred to as the "green man" or the "green huntsman" ) appears, and offers them help -- and for payment, all he wants is an unbaptized child. When the women are told what's going on, they believe they can help their men, but it becomes obvious that this is not working out. One of the wives, Christine of Lindau, takes up the green huntsman's offer, thinking that when a new baby is born, the people will find a way to deceive him, and they do manage to stave off the devil for a while. However, they hadn't reckoned on the black spider, a reminder that the huntsman "would not suffer himself to be duped without recompense." I won't say more, because that would kill it for anyone remotely interested.
In Christian mythology, the spider is, of course, associated with the Devil, and you've got the Green Huntsman of the story in that role as the source of the spider, so it should be easy to figure out. However, according to Terrence Rafferty of the New York Times, the spider also becomes a symbol of plague, and there are scenes in this book that support this idea as well.
Even if you're not so inclined toward the Christian messages (as in my case), you can still enjoy The Black Spider. There are a number of scenes that are bound to produce that wonderful frisson of chills crawling up your spine, making it a perfect pre-Halloween read; it's also a peek into a specific society at a specific time and place making it a good story for historical fiction readers. (less)