12th March 2015
In The Raven’s Head, allow yourself to travel back to a deadly place, where conjurers and alchemical magicians bring forth their dark and twisted magic in the hope of gaining power and immortality.
Three disparate characters, seemingly unrelated get drawn into an alchemical conundrum which at first bears no relation to the life they are all leading. Vincent is a disgruntled librarian who thinks that life is better on the other side of the proverbial medieval fence. His clumsy attempt at blackmailing his Lord will leave him in possession of a carved silver raven’s head, a deadly artefact, which was the alchemical symbol of death. Wilky, a young boy taken from his peasant family, is given into the terrifying care of the religious order of the White Canons. Whilst Gisa, a young maiden working for her aunt and uncle, is learning an apothecaries skill with herbs and potions, when she gets drawn into the deadly world of Lord Sylvain, a puppet master with an eye on the main chance, and whose lust for the raven's head will soon enfold all four characters in a deadly game of chance.
The story gets off to a slow start, there is much to take in and the characters need to make their own mark before they start to come together. This is done with the author’s fine attention to detail, and as always no historical stone is left unturned and no detail is left unrecorded The characters are realistic to the point where you sense them in the room beside you, and watch in fascinated awe, sometimes bordering on terror, as they all get drawn further and further into a deadly game of scheming sacrifice and unadulterated evil.
I can think of no other author currently writing medieval fiction who can, with one sweep of her pen, conjure an ancient world so believable that time literally stands still as you read, and your very modern world starts to change imperceptibly, until you feel the creep of ancient magic burrow into your bones, and the ache of superstition starts to lie heavy on your mortal soul.
With twenty first century sensibilities, it's hard to imagine such a dangerous world of myth and legend, and yet, in The Raven’s Head, Karen Maitland succeeds in drawing the reader into the story and combines the very best of medieval storytelling with an alchemical tale which abounds with high treachery, deceit and danger.
My thanks to Headline Review for my copy of this book to read in advance of its publication.