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The Gallows Curse

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3.78  ·  Rating details ·  1,923 ratings  ·  201 reviews
Set in the reign of King John, when the whole of England was under sentence of excommunication (among other issues, King John wouldn't accept the Pope's choice of Archbishop). Can you imagine the chaos - all the churches closed, King John in retaliation arresting every priest who hadn't fled and the people terrified of dying in sin without the last rites? No burials were p ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published March 1st 2011 by Michael Joseph (first published 2011)
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3.78  · 
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 ·  1,923 ratings  ·  201 reviews


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karen
Feb 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Melki
May 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Blair
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
Bookish Ally
May 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.25 stars for Maitland, Mistress of the medieval. At the beginning of each chapter she gives us a taste of her knowledge of 13th century superstitions as it pertains to trees: “For the ash is a sacred tree and the three weird sisters of fate–past, present and future–water the ash so that it will never die. And, at the roots of the ash tree lie three wells–remembrance, rebirth and destruction. And the deepest well of them all is destruction.”

I enjoyed this less than the other 3 I’ve read by her
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Nikki
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'
...more
Bettie☯
Mar 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Pressie from Mikael xx
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
JackieB
Oct 29, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction, historical
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Felice
Apr 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Beadyjan
May 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Ruth Dugdall
Jul 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Kaora
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

This is my second read by this author, the first having been Company of Liars. I find her books to be a slow burn, a gradual build-up of events with a solid ending that makes the slow core of the book worthwhile.

The Gallows Curse has an interesting format, each chapter being broken up by snippets of information about herbs or
...more
Kate Sherrod
May 13, 2013 rated it liked it
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
...more
Paul
Oct 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Much of what I've come to expect in Maitlands books, strong interesting female characters, lots of superstition, well developed historical setting and a good story. The plot drew me in and the story kept a good pace. The longer story in the backgtound feeding into the main plot is well worked. It all got a little over twisted at the end but still an enjoyable read.
Teresa
Jun 01, 2011 rated it liked it
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
...more
Sophie
May 19, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Hilary Green
May 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Bibliophile
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
Jamie
Feb 16, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
(2.5) This is so well written and immersive in the historical time as are her other books, but it was too long and too dark/violent for me right now...especially when MaddAddam arrived!
Also, it was frustrating having an excerpt from "The Mandrake's Herbal" at the beginning of every chapter; it interrupted the flow of the story.
Janette Fleming
Aug 04, 2011 rated it liked it
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
...more
Carole
Mar 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Rico Lamoureux
Feb 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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.
...more
Kathy
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
Tilly
Apr 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Rachel
Dec 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Amy
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
...more
Tracey
really enjoyed this book. The characters were strong and held the plot so well with their adventures and life being described through the pages.
Elena was a marvellous character, strong, passionate and led into a life so unplanned by other people's mistakes.
the introduction of herbs, food, plants before each chapter was interesting and essential at times as it led the reader further forward into the story.
I felt so sorry for Raffe , as he was mislead by the person he trusted most This led to so
...more
Lj
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.
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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
“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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