Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review: The Gallows Curse by Karen Maitland

"The thirteenth century is just begun and King John has fallen out with the Pope, leaving babies to lie unbaptized int heir cradles and corpses in unconsecrated ground.  Across a fear-ravaged England, the people are dying in sin.

And into the Norfolk village of Gastmere comes a new Lord of the Manor - the cruel and bloodthirsty Osborn, not long returned from crusading.  Spying treachery at every turn, he is prepared on the slightest pretext to damn anyone to hell and the scaffold.

So when Elena, a servant girl, is falsely accused of murdering her child, she is convinced she will be next.  But there are others who will defy Osborn's brutal regime to save a girl who once took part in the secrets and strange rituals of the manor..." (back cover description)

My Take:

This is going to sound super lame but sometimes when I'm having trouble getting a review started, I like to do some word association, and this will get my creativity flowing.  I never include the word association in my review, but since it failed to get me going this time, here it is.  This may give you an idea of my feeling about this book, which are as mixed as a Berry Best Frozen Custard Avalanche (I just got finished eating my Turtle Sundae from BRC's Frozen Custard, so be prepared, there may be many dairy based metaphors in this post.  My apologies to the lactose intolerant.)

(Photo used under creative commons from Sirsnapsalot)

Plot: Interesting...Depressing...Unique...Semi-meandering...
Characters: Eh....Meh...Vienna Boy's Choir candidate...zzzzzz.....
Historical Content: Rich...Detailed...Folklore-ful (yeah, I like to make up a lot of words when I do word association)
Writing Quality: A+...solid...pro...

Did that give you any idea about the book?  No?  Let's dig into the review and maybe...hopefully...I'll circle around to a coherent thought or two :)  

Plot:  The plot was very very interesting, as I said in the association, but also like I said, it was super depressing.  As in depressing like each copy sold should come with a prescription for Prozac.  

(Photo used under creative commons from Carsten Schertzer)
These sorts of books, where basically nothing goes right for anyone, aren't usually my thing, but the other positives in the book kept me reading.  For example, the unique narrator kept me riveted.  The narrator was a mandrake root.  A shriveled, gnarly and amoral plant. Intrigued?  You should be.  As for the plot being semi-meandering, I think labyrinthine is more the word I'm searching for.  In the end, the way all the different plot points came together wasn't a big enough payoff to make the work it took to follow everything worth it.

Characters:  I've got to say, I didn't really love any of them.  The main girl, Elena, was weak, annoyingly blinded by love and a bit on the snoozy side (hence the Eh, Meh and zzzzzzz)  Now her unwanted savior is a bit more interesting, he is a fierce eunuch chomping at the bit to get his revenge and save the fair (and boring) maiden with whom he is in love.  I think most of the villains are a little flat, I wanted more layers, maybe some back story to make them more complex.  They felt a little mustache twirling, "I'm evil just because I'm evil" and I'm gunna tie you to a railroad just because I can.  

(Photo used under creative commons from mpeake)

Moving on...

Historical Content:  Awesome.  I wouldn't say accurate, because in the book, the supernatural is very much a real force, but as far as the day to day life, work, clothing, customs, etc., it's pretty spot on.  I loved how this book really brought to life the time period in which the church had left these people.  When you hear about it in history books, you think so what, but this book really made you realize it's a whole lotta what!  These people were genuinely terrified for their souls, and you really get that int he book.  A+.

Writing Quality:  The quality is not on trial here.  It is engaging, natural and down right fascinating.

So there you have my feelings on the book broken down, but what about as a whole?  Well.....
All in all, it was  just too twisted for me.  The dark stuff was too dark.  It had too many of the depressing elements of medieval Europe.  I can usually take it when a book focuses on one thing, but with all of the curses (which are real in the book) the hangings, the child prostitution, the dead baby spirits, the evil evil evil Aristocracy, murders of Monks, etc, it was too much for me.  If you love a good dark novel and don't get squeamish, check it out.  If you are a bit more sensitive, steer way clear of this book.  It'll haunt the crap out of you!  I think I'm going to have to give this book a rating of 3, Find a Used Book Store.  I have  to say that while this book isn't really my favorite, I am very interested in reading more from this author.

Tell me what you think!  

Are you into dark historical novels?

What is your favorite?

How do you feel about this author?

Is this her best work?  

Sound off in the comments!

If this book were a movie it would be rated R for disturbing images, sexual content and violence.

***FTC Disclosure:  The Gallows Curse was provided free of charge by the publishers in exchange for an honest opinions.  No other compensation was given, all opinions are my own and not influenced by any author, publisher, publicist or blogger***


Kittie Howard said...

Your honestly is greatly appreciated. I don't like flat characters either -- or cloying ones -- but I do learn a lot about the historical era so think I'd read the book for that knowledge, plus I like the Medieval era, er, a couple of books a year.

Kate the Book Buff said...

The book is definitely worth a read if just for the historical content. The history is very richly woven into the story. The historical content was absolutely my favorite part!

Unknown said...

I have not read the book - but I do like historical novels. I love your review - different and engaging. Thanks.


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