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The Raven's Head by Karen Maitland

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Manda Scott
Posts: 81
Joined: July 2010
Location: Shropshire, UK

The Raven's Head by Karen Maitland

Post by Manda Scott » Fri March 13th, 2015, 12:13 pm

Karen Maitland is one of our country's foremost writers of historical fiction, and right at the leading edge of the whole Mediaeval mystery/thriller sub-genre. From The Owl Killers to Company of Liars to the glorious, beautiful, 'Falcons of Fire and Ice', she is an expert in crafting intelligent, engaging, emotionally literate – and utterly compelling, thrillers. As a mediaevalist, her sense of time and place is pitch perfect, the language feels right without descending into thee and thou or the fake forsooths that can so often mar this era – and the small details of dress and lifestyle immerse us in the reality of it, without being overdone.
The key to this book is the sense of the troubador's tales. Vincent is an English nun's bastard, brought up in a French chateaux, as slave/apprentice to the librarian. A chance discovery, and a spot of failed blackmail set him on the road where he finds that his facility for spinning yarns can earn him far more money than any of this other skills – and this is one of his yarns. We see in from other directions, from the perspective of a young boy who is effectively kidnapped from his family and taken to a monastery to be 'educated' in what feels like a mirror to all the Church's child abuse abdications of centuries, and a young girl, apprentice to an apothecary – but it's Vincent's story really, his is the first person, his the sense of wonder and bewilderment and just enough devilry to carry us forward into what becomes and increasingly dark and dangerous place.
For Vincent carries the Raven's Head, which may be beautiful, but is certainly a lot more deadly than it seems, and it wants to return to its rightful master, an alchemist so utterly blinded by his own search for power that he has lost all sense of a moral compass.
This is an edgy, taut, beautiful thriller, but it's the alchemy that gives it its heart: the sense that this was happening just underneath the surface, and nobody, still, has any real clue as to what went on, or why.
If you've read any of Karen Maitland's books before, then you'll be waiting for this already. If you haven't, and you enjoy anyone from CJ Sansom to Susanna Gregory to Michael Jecks to Deborah Harkness, you'll want to read this..

Bestselling author of
Boudica: Dreaming. INTO THE FIRE out in June 2015: Forget what you thought you knew, this changes everything.


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MLE (Emily Cotton)
Posts: 3562
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Fri March 13th, 2015, 2:33 pm

Love Karen Maitland! Looks like another one for my TBR pile.
Thanks for the review.

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