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The Gallows Curse

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  1,658 Ratings  ·  179 Reviews
The thirteenth-century is just begun and King John has fallen out with the Pope, leaving babies to lie unbaptized in their cradles and corpses in unconsecrated ground. Across a fear-ravaged England, the people are dying in sin.

In the village of Gastmere, this has shocking consequences for servant girl Elena. Unwittingly drawn into a macabre scheme to absolve dying Lord Ger
Paperback, 564 pages
Published March 15th 2012 by Penguin (first published 2011)
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Feb 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
this is probably the best book i have ever read that is narrated entirely by a mandrake.

let's take a moment to celebrate the mandrake, shall we? a humanlike plant brought to life by the spilled semen of hanged men which screams when it is pulled from the ground, but will continue to live and grant you magical abilities if you treat it right? coolest thing ever, and a childhood fascination of mine - i always wanted one for a pet, but noooooo, we had to have a dog. damn traditional family...

this b
May 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This was a rollicking, medieval soap opera that I thoroughly enjoyed.

A warning to you menfolk - while the book is crammed with strong female characters, the guys tend to be either conniving bastards or lily-livered wusses who do everything Mommy tells them...even if it's abstaining from sex.

My favorite exchange occurs when a crusty old battle-ax is fearful that some of the king's men may have their way with her. She is told, rather impolitely, by one "gentleman," "You can sleep soundly, mistres
Like Karen Maitland's other two books, Company of Liars and The Owl Killers (both great, by the way), this is a complex, labyrinthine mystery set in medieval England. The Interdict of 1208 forms the background for the plot, which concerns two main characters. The first is Elena, a 15-year-old serving girl who becomes a runaway, and later finds herself tricked into prostitution, after she's accused of killing her own baby. The second is Raffaelle, a tortured, revenge-hungry steward who is forced ...more
I wasn't as riveted by The Gallows Curse as I was by Karen Maitland's first book, Company of Liars. Part of that was the fact that I've been writing essays, and I haven't had a gallstone attack that could just keep me up all night with nothing to do but read! And part of it is my reluctance to end up with no more of her stuff to read...

Like Company of Liars, it's somewhat slow paced, based on a build up of tension that really works for me and might infuriate other readers. I like Karen Maitland'
Oct 29, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, historical
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ruth Dugdall
Jul 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Book review of The Gallows Curse by Karen Maitland

I discovered Karen Maitland when I read her first book, The Company of Liars, and reading her third novel, Gallows Curse, I am once again struck my the colourful, vivid writing that makes her novels stand out from others. You can literally smell the brothel, touch the food, see the hair ornaments twinkle…

Lots of meaty discussions can be had from this historical novel, which has much resonance for the modern reader. Epic in length, gritty in tone
Kate Sherrod
Mandrake root has been believed to be capable of many, many things, but who knew it also had narrative talent?

Such is the conceit of The Gallows Curse, in which a mandrake root tells the story of various intrigues taking place during the reign of King John the Worst*, aka John Lackland, specifically during the height of his dispute with Pope Innocent III over who got to pick the Archbishop of Canterbury, which, as the main flow of this novel opens, has not only resulted in John's excommunication
Apr 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Novelist Karen Maitland puts the dark into the Dark Ages. In her first two novels Company of Liars and The Owl Killers she took us into the seamy side of the 1300's. No knights and pageantry for Ms. Maitland. No martyrs or future Popes. No farm boys turned empire builders or daughters of the squire scheming to marry up. Her heroes and heroines are the unwashed, the common folk of the period struggling legally and illegally if necessary to survive and all too susceptible to superstition and the m ...more
May 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone who has a fascination for medieval times.
Shelves: historical
Oh my goodness - Wow isn't nearly a good enough superlative for what this author does.

Having LOVED her first 2 books I was a touch nervous starting The Gallows curse in case it didn't live up to my very high expectations ...

But it exceeded them. I just cannot fault this lady's writing, she brings the dark ages to life in the most believeable ways, her use of modern language in conversation heavily peppered with atmospheric curses, makes it even more accessible and easy to read yet the meticulous
May 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Hilary Green
May 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Maitland creates a dark world of superstition and religious fervor which seemed to me to give the authentic feel of the early Middle Ages. With England under a Papal interdict and all the churches closed and the priests either exiled or in hiding all the inhabitants, high and low, are obsessed with the fear of hell and damnation. Innocent Elena is forced, unknowingly, to become a 'sin eater', to take on the sins of a dead knight and to give up her baby to the local 'wise woman'. This story is se ...more
Mar 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Once I realized this was a juicy medieval soap opera, as opposed to a serious historical novel, I quite enjoyed it. It's fast-paced, entertaining fun. Just don't expect great writing or characterization. The words and characters are there to move the plot along, nothing more. Evil noblemen, witches, wenches and whores all scheme and plot each others deaths according to their superstition of choice. Elena, the teenage protagonist, is as dense as a London fog. Her biggest fan, Raffe, is a castrate ...more
Janette Fleming
Whilst, for me, this novel didn't engaged as much as its predecessors Company of Liars and The Owl Killers its evocation of Medieval England and the delicious mixing of natural and supernatural make for an entertaining, satisfying read.

Set in 1210, during the time of Pope Innocent's Interdict of 1208, which rendered England spiritually desolate by closing down the churches for six years as punishment for King John’s refusal to accept Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. The Edict removed
Mar 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Elena is 16 years old, a naive, fragile flame-haired girl, working as a maid for Lady Anne. She becomes pregnant and has strange dreams in which she appears to kill her new born baby.
Raffaele is a middle-aged man, steward to Lady Anne, he has carried out horrendous crimes in his past for which he can’t forgive himself, but I believe he is a good man. And he has a soft spot for Elena.

Due to a deliberate act of well-meaning deceipt, their lives become bound forever together.

The year is 1210 -- not
Jun 01, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having suffered from a severe bout of Reader's Block recently, my flagging reading mojo was instantly revived by Karen Maitland's medieval romp, The Owl Killers. Admittedly, the reading location - poolside in a secluded spot in the Algarve, sun splitting the trees etc - might have helped matters somewhat! Anyway, I wanted more of the same and fearing a relapse, I dived straight into Ms Maitland's recent release, The Gallow's Curse.

Set in 1210, we are immersed in the sights and sounds of England
Rico Lamoureux
Feb 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Gallows Curse is narrated by Yadua, a mandrake that has a pivotal role within the story. What is a mandrake, you might ask? "Semi-human, demi gods, they call us." When it comes to this creature, this species, whatever this thing actually is, you don't get much more of an answer than that. Throughout the tale they remain a mystery, leaving you with more questions than answers. But one of the more interesting things about them is how they come about, "spring up." I won't divulge such, so as to ...more
Liza Perrat
Sep 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having loved and reviewed Karen Maitland’s previous two books, Company of Liars and The Owl Killers, I was expecting great things from The Gallows Curse. I was not at all disappointed.
Set against the backdrop of Pope Innocent III’s Interdict imposed on England in 1208, after King John refused to accept the pope’s appointee, Stephen Langton, as Archbishop of Canterbury, The Gallows Curse is a dark and complex historical mystery.
The cast of characters is diverse, yet linked by many invisible ties.
Nobody writes the Middle Ages better than Karen Maitland. Her skill at ensconcing the reader into the setting is masterful. The mud and muck and the stink of living in an age of no plumbing and dirt roads are brought to life along with the characters who toil daily to survive it all. Maitland's latest tale takes place under the reign of King John, son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, when the Pope Innocent III has imposed an Interdict on England due to the refusal of King John to accept the ...more
Apr 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Lovers of historical fiction
Recommended to Tilly by: Sainsbury's book club!!
The Gallows Curse was an impulse buy - although I am a huge fan of historical fiction, many of the books set in the Dark Ages that I have read have been very dull. But The Gallows Curse is very different.
I found the additions of the Mandrake's Herbal really helped to bring it to life, and portray the superstitions and beliefs at the time, which to me was crucial. I found the characters, while not always believable and sometimes not even likeable, to be intriguing and I constantly felt I wanted
Dec 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My third book by this author and it did not disappoint. One thing it did make me realise - I am so glad I did not live during this period of history! To say life was difficult is an understatement. Just Like Karen's other novels the historical detail is fantastic. I also particularly liked the start of each chapter with the extracts from the Mandrakes handbook. Some of these were most illuminating - my favourite is the one about the ants.

The novel itself is full of twists and turns with Master R
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Good...but not as good as Company of Liars or The Owl Keepers. It seems that in the other two books the story line would twist and turn to keep you guessing. Though this one also holds many secrets that you must keep reading to discover, it just wasn't as riveting. I also didn't find the characters quite as sympathetic as those in the other two books. (well, I feel sorry for anyone who had to live through that day and age) I just wasn't as invested. I found Elena to be a little whiny and self ce ...more
Jo Barton
May 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Set in the Norfolk marshes with more than enough Gothic gloom to feed the soul, the dark and dirty 13C is brought gloriously to life in this third novel by Karen Maitland. Beautifully crafted from the beginning, and teeming with superstition, this story transports you back to the brutal days in our history, when dark and Godless forces roamed freely, and violent crimes were accepted without question.
I have total admiration for an author who can recreate a world so entirely that as you read, you
Mar 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another fantastic read from Karen Maitland. The story line is interesting and easy to follow with some interesting twists.

Having read The Gallows Curse, The Owl Killers and The company of Liars I find that I am consistently drawn into vivid, well planned out worlds which have both appealed to my interest in historical/ supernatural style tales which Karen does exceedingly well.

A must read for everyone!
Jack Pramitte
Aug 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a little weak for 4 stars but too good for only 3. At 670 pages, it's 200 pages to long. Too often I was thinking: this author is really spoon feeding me with explanations I don't need. She should trust my intelligence a little more. At other moments, I was thinking: hum, that's a soap... Am I reading Angélique (by Anne Golon) ? Still, the book is original and the main characters are believable and I enjoyed it.
Inna De Quate
Loved A Company of Liars by the same author so was expecting same level of excitement from Maitland’s other books. I picked The Gallows Curse to be the next one yet my expectations have been met only to some extent. This book is quite slow-paced and monotonous and to be fair I was struggling at times and had temptations to abandon reading and switch to something else. I guess this is the author’s style and Company of Liars was a bit like that but it has been massively saved by presence of a lot ...more
Emma Jane
It's hard to care about a book when you don't care about the characters. "The Gallow's Curse" fell flat for me. There's not really any progression at all in this novel, and it did actually feel like a long, hard slog to a conclusion that unfortunately never arrives. So "pointless" is the overall impression I have now. The whole novel is just an interim before the reveal of the "secrets" that spark off the plot, though the character those secrets belong to is dead before the story begins. So its ...more
Mar 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
I love this author, this is the third book I have read by her and I own two more.

The story is complex and riveting. You start with one mystery and before you know it, you have 20 expertly woven into the story and you cannot stop until you know all the answers. I was hooked from the prologue, trying to work out who the little girl was, it made perfect sense when I found out but I was way off in my guessing.

The setting was life-like and felt like I had jumped straight into a history book. The char
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
c2011 Getting a bit weird. I really enjoyed Ms Maitland's first book (The Company of Liars) and the second book I enjoyed a little less (The Owl Killers)- but this one sadly left me cold. I did like the chapters being prefaced with extracts from The Mandrake's Herbal which almost sets up the episode. The story takes place over 15 months and the plot moves quickly. I found the writing style excellent and the historical bits were still really interesting. I think it was the mixture of historical w ...more
Jul 08, 2012 rated it liked it
...All things considered, I liked the history and setting a lot more than the characters or stories in this novel. The Gallows Curse is a decent read, it kept me engaged and mildly curious to see how events would play out but it is not a book I'd be tempted to reread. I do feel the story fell flat in the last few chapters. By the time the fates of Raffeale and Elena became clear I didn't really care about either of these characters enough to really get caught up in the climax of the story. A sha ...more
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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
More about Karen Maitland...

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“They all wait impatiently for the blessed cloak of darkness to cover their wretched little deeds, but the sun will not be hurried by the whims of men.” 12 likes
“Mortals are strange creatures; they cling to life even when that life is nothing but pain and misery, yet they will throw away their lives for a word, an idea, even a flag. Wolves piss to mark their territory. Smell the stench of another pack and wolves will quietly slink away. Why risk a fight when it might maim or kill you? But humans will slash and slaughter in their thousands to plant their little piece of cloth on a hill or hang it from a battlement.” 2 likes
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