Saturday 1 September 2018

Hist Fic Saturday ~ A Gathering of Ghosts by Karen Maitland

On Hist Fic Saturday

Let's go back to ...Dartmoor, 1316

Headline Review
6 September

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book

The year of our lord, 1316 and a great famine sweeps the land. In an isolated refuge in the wilds of Dartmoor, the holy sisters of the Hospitallers’ Priory of St Mary care for the poor, the diseased and those troubled in spirit. Taking the waters at the Holy Well, once known locally as Brydes Well and dedicated to the Goddess Brigid, offers a sliver of mercy and hope of redemption. However, some pilgrims believe more in the old gods and goddesses, pagan deities who controlled thoughts and prayers long before Christianity, and it would seem that the old gods are, once again, demanding their own sense of appeasement. The delicate green moss which decorates the wall to the Holy Well, once a sight of wonder, now becomes a shimmering mass of deep ruby-red as the walls start to run with blood. 

Visceral and filled with a primitive desolation, A Gathering of Ghosts is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a delicate story. It’s dark and dirty, alive with fear and superstition, and so eerily creepy it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Tense with menace from the start, there is never a moment when the sense of medieval history doesn’t come gloriously alive. 

Beautifully told in several story strands we are led through the dangerous reality of living life in constant fear of starvation and the undeniable dread of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time. There is much to take in; from the inner workings of daily life at the priory, with all its squabbles and petty jealousies, to the mysterious portent of the arrival of a blind child, and the unexpected visit from Knight Brother Nicholas, a warrior monk and Knight of St John, all of which deeply disturbs the equilibrium of life at St Mary’s. Out on the windswept moor itself, we have Kendra, the blood charmer and her daughter, Morwen, a young woman on the cusp of her power as a cunning woman. But I think it was in the story of Sorrel, a pitiful young woman who in escaping her father’s cruelty runs straight into another nightmare, who really tugged at my imagination. 

This is not the pretty history of romantic novels; it’s harsh and brutal, showering the page with the vicious reality of medieval life. It’s also another wonderfully atmospheric story from the queen of medieval fiction, there’s not a word wasted, an emotion unexpressed or a terror unexplored. A Gathering of Ghosts kept me awake at night, and when I finally put the book down and slept, I had nightmare visions of churning snakes and the glistening gold-green of hundreds of frogs as they swarmed from the holy well.

I loved it ๐Ÿ˜ˆ

Karen Maitland travelled and worked in many parts of the United Kingdom before settling for several years in the beautiful medieval city of Lincoln, an inspiration for her writing. She is the author of The White Room, Company of Liars, The Owl Killers, The Gallows Curse, The Falcons of Fire and Ice, The Vanishing Witch, The Raven's Head,The Plague Charmer, A Gathering of Ghosts. She now leads a life of rural bliss in Devon.

Twitter @headlinepg #AGatheringofGhosts

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